A new report from the United Nations has set out in stark detail the “unprecedented” rate at which the natural world is receding on Earth. Human activity is beginning to threaten the life-support systems upon which human life depends. The potential consequences of this would be catastrophic if they came to pass. It is therefore vital that we begin to take notice and work towards a greener future all round.
Below are the key points raised by the study and what they mean for the world.
Human Life is On the Line
The number of plant and animal species facing extinction is now well over one million. This includes 40% of all the amphibian species on the planet, as well as 33% of all the reef-forming corals and roughly the same portion of all marine animals.
Terrestrial species aren’t doing much better either, facing a decline of 20% since 1990. The study counts 690 vertebrate species that have become extinct since the 16th century.
If we don’t change course, this lack of biodiversity will soon pose a threat to human life. If the scales tip, entire ecosystems could collapse and lead to a devastating famine. The very foundation of our economies and societies is being threatened by the rapid decline of biodiversity on Earth.
Species are Dying and Threatening Food Security
Modern agricultural practices have significantly affected our relationship with the land around us. These practices have led to a decrease in the diversity of species that are grown to be consumed by humans, with the most productive varieties being favored. This preference for production over all else has led to a number of species being mostly or completely ignored.
This lack of diversity poses a serious risk to global food supply chains, undermining the resilience of herds and crops to disease and other threats. A single species of pest can be devastating for crop production. As climate change continues to alter the balance of delicate ecosystems, the chance of pest infestations, pathogens and other hazards increases. There is the potential for significant disruption to local and global food supplies.
More Conservation is Needed
The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project is a perfect example of the kind of modern conservation project that the UN is encouraging. Whether undertaken by states or private institutions, conservation efforts are going to be essential if we are to preserve our most important species. If one ecosystem collapses, the knock-on effects could be disastrous.
We Need to Support Indigenous Knowledge and Land Management
There are many indigenous people out there who have successfully lived off the land in total harmony with nature for thousands of years. However, the encroaching forces of competing external interests such as mining, logging and agriculture are beginning to disrupt the balance that has existed for thousands of years.
Roughly a quarter of all the land in the world is owned, managed, used or occupied by indigenous groups. The UN’s report found that most indigenous peoples had tried to be proactive about the challenges posed by climate change but that the problem was getting worse at an unsustainable rate for many, forcing them from their traditional lands and homes.
Reforestation for Carbon Sequestration Could Threaten Biodiversity
There are large scale efforts underway in much of the world with the goal of reforesting large areas. This essentially involves the planting of lots of trees, hundreds or thousands at a time, with the hope of restoring forests to their previous glories.
However, while restoring native ecosystems back to their original state is one of the most important goals of environmentalists, it needs to be approached very carefully. We now have evidence to suggest that reforesting land that has been previously cleared deliberately, or was not previously forested, can be damaging to local ecosystems.
Not only is excessive reforesting a problem for local biodiversity, but it also threatens the quality of the local water and soil. This can potentially have significant knock on effects for the surrounding area. In many parts of the world, this will mean exacerbating localized problems such as a lack of work, social security, and access to basic resources.
Green Spaces in Cities Need Protecting
More of the world’s population than ever before is living in urban centers. In fact, most people are now urban dwellers globally. It is therefore vital that we continue to work towards maintaining green spaces in the heart of cities. There have been lots of really cool initiatives around the world aimed at making cities more eco-friendly.
The UN report placed particular emphasis on ensuring that governments around the world work to introduce more green spaces into cities. There is good evidence that adding plants to cities can lead to lower levels of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants. This can be a very effective means of carbon capture, as plants are able to make use of carbon-dioxide in the ar.
A key recommendation of the UN report is that cities must invest in more rooftop gardens and other features that incorporate plants into the architecture of cities.
We Are Losing Water to Agriculture
Water is one of the most important resources there is. Ensuring water security is a key pillar of global peace. Where people lose access to clean water, civil unrest is often not far behind. In order to avoid conflicts breaking out across the globe, water supplies need to be maintained.