With the news feeling like an exaggerated apocalypse novel, why don’t we just let nature fall apart at the seams and do what’s best for us, for humanity? And what do cute beavers have to do with it all?
For me, there are a million reasons, so let me get through some doom and gloom and the current state of things, before I share them with you, and tell you what we can do—because, surprisingly, there is a lot we can still do.
What to Expect in this Article
The Doom and Gloom of 2022
Wildfires all over the West of the US, France, South Korea, Germany, Morocco, Spain, Canada, Greece, Argentina, Italy, Portugal—and it’s mid-August, so not even remotely the end of the fire season. So far, an estimated 660,000 hectare of land have been destroyed in Europe alone—roughly the area of Delaware. And keep in mind that we’ve got two hemispheres, so there is another round of fire season coming for the Southern Hemisphere. Australia was hit hard the last few years.
All these issues are connected, and with the help of crafty river beavers, and some common sense, we could get a grip on them. Beavers? Yes, beavers.
Reading the news can make you feel like you accidentally tuned into an apocalypse novel—and that’s even with news outlets reporting more about some writer getting attacked at a reading than they do about the natural disasters all over the world. And all that while we are still in the grips of a global pandemic. Add wars and social issues, and it’s a wonder any of us are still doing anything other than hide in bed.
So, why should we dedicate any of our time, nerves, emotional batteries, or even money to saving this planet, when most of us are just hanging from a spider-web thin thread? I’ll tell you!
The State of Biodiversity
Since 1970, mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles, so the animal groups most people give a crab about, have on average dropped by almost 70%. In the tropical subregions, the Living Planet Index has dropped by 95%.
Global trade, consumption, and the addition of more and more humans to more and more crowded places, have put immense pressure on the world around us.
“The Living Planet Report 2020 underlines how humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives,” saysMarco Lamertini, the Director General of WWF International.
Which leads me directly into all the reasons why we should still give a crab. There are likely more than you think!
Why We Should Care
Nature is Beautiful
The simplest reason first: Nature is ducking beautiful and the best kind of recreation. Going for a walk in your local forest or going for a swim in your favorite lake immediately lifts the mood. Interaction with nature has been shown to lift depression—and much more healthily than with antidepressants. I’ve been on antidepressants, and it’s not fun. Exposure to nature makes people happy, provides a natural high, without costing you a cent.
But telling you to give a crab about nature just because it’s cool, is a bit too easy, so here are some more tangible reasons:
Nature Feeds Us
To feed the growing number of humans, we rely directly on nature. WWF says, if we don’t maintain the rich biodiversity of this planet, we won’t be able to even remotely stop world hunger by 2030, one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals that seems more decoration than aim.
And while thousands of species of plants, animals, fungi, and even microorganisms are used as food, crop diversity has gone down by 75% in the last two decades because we keep eating—and feeding—the same few crops.
Just as one ridiculous example: We could eat numerous kinds of bananas, but only eat one. Cavendish bananas make up 99% of the trade. And plantains probably make up much of the rest. So, if anything were to happen to the Cavendish, a pest that’s particularly good at destroying the crops, we’d be royally ducked on the banana front. And you can bet that we’d import that pest from its origin to all over the world because we are just that good at invasive species.
Similarly, we are losing most species of coffee and wild potatoes, while consuming only few. Other plants like strawberries and chocolate are highly sensitive to the conditions they grow in—conditions changing with climate change.
A good chunk of this issue is due to processed foods and meat production, as the same few crops are used over and over for those. Cooking from scratch, exploring local farmers’ markets, and trying something you haven’t eaten before, are all good choices, but we need governments to act to protect the biodiversity of our food—and the animals that help it grow.
Money, Money, Money
More than half of the global GDP is reliant on properly functioning ecosystems. Without biodiversity, half of our economic wealth is at risk. With a fifth of all countries’ ecosystems close to collapse, immediate change is needed. And changing would save us money!
If we keep going the way we are going, replacing services that nature currently provides would cost about $10 trillion dollar by 2050—remember that’s the year when all those lovely corporations plan to actually start going net-zero or whatever empty promises they made.
If we, instead, focus on protecting and restoring nature, we would go the other way with gains of 230 billion by 2050. That’s a lot of money to be lost of had, completely dismantling the stupid argument that fighting climate change and biodiversity loss is too expensive. We can’t afford not to!
The rising global temperatures and heat waves that go along with climate change could also mean that working hours have to be reduced by more than 2 percent. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the equivalent of 80 million jobs or 2.4 trillion dollar. Most of those lost hours would likely affect the poorest, as agricultural jobs and other jobs where you can’t just turn on the A/C in the office are especially affected. Probably part of the reason why this is getting ignored… Why would the powers that be care about the rising inequality caused by this?
Protecting Nature Saves Lives—Human and Animal
It seems pretty obvious that protecting animals would, well, protect animals. But some of those animals are actually helping us fight climate change. Remember those beavers I mentioned? Almost there.
Protecting nature would also protect human lives. To live, we rely on nature for the water we drink, the food we eat, even the air we breathe. We live in houses build from stone and wood—both natural resources. We take medicines either directly derived from nature or imitating nature.
Pardon the mention, but the pandemic we somehow can’t seem to really shake, is connected, too. I know, we are all sick of hearing about it, so let me keep this one as brief as possible: most infectious diseases that affect us humans start in animals. WWF lists Ebola, SARS, and COVID-19 as examples, but I want to add the recent bird flu outbreaks. Yes, sure, bird flu only affects few humans, but it still directly affects us if our beloved chicken dinner dies before it can be breaded and fried.
The Global Virome Project estimates that there are 1.7 million undiscovered viruses with the ability to infect humans. Deforestation and close interaction with captive wild animals increase opportunities for diseases to transmit.
Protecting nature is actually the best solution to preventing natural disasters like the many I mentioned in the introduction. We’ll get into how nature-based solutions work, and why they are ducking spectacular, in a second—and also, those damn beavers.
It’s NOT OURS to exploit
The last thing I want to say before I tell you about that is: What gives us the right to exploit nature the way we do. We’ve gotten so ducking efficient at taking, taking, taking, that nature is thrown off balance. There is enough of nature to support all of the animals, plants, microorganisms, and this cocky animal called human, but we’ve just taken so much more than our fair share. Okay, beavers.
What We Can Do
Listen to the beavers, obviously. But all jokes aside, a team of scientists actually did just that. They found that beavers create habitats that other animals rely on. More beaver, more fish. More beaver, more trees. More beavers, less drought and fewer or at least smaller wildfires.
So, they imitated what the beavers do: they built beaver-style dams, beaver-dam analogs, convincing enough that some of them were continued by actual beavers. And it worked!
It’s the perfect example of two things: nature being best at protecting nature, and the promise of nature-based solutions.
Nature is Best at Protecting Nature—IF We Let It!
Listen to corporations and billionaires out there, and the message is clear: geoengineering, CO2-removing technology, planting a shitton of fast-growing monoculture trees, or science-fiction wonders that don’t even exist yet will solve the climate crisis for us. We don’t need to change. Right? Well, wrong.
Geo-engineering has huge issues—we’ll talk about those in an article soon.
Planting a shitton of trees has huge issues—I’m a marine ecologist, so I won’t talk about that, but there are plenty of videos and articles explaining why this is a shitty idea. Like this one. Or this one. Or this one.
As to the carbon-suckers, the main issue is that the technology isn’t yet scalable. Sure, it might be possible to use these things at some point. For now, they are essentially a proof of concept at a tiny scale. Not a solution or even a promise of one.
Instead of hoping for a future solution, we need to protect natural habitats and give space back to nature. I told you about the 30×30 project recently, an effort to protect 30% of the planet by 2030. Eric Dinerstein, the director of the biodiversity and wildlife nonprofit RESOLVE and his team take it a step further, fighting for protecting half the land. Half! Sounds like a lot, but they make a strong case: It would allow us to achieve the almost unfeasible 1.5 degree goal of the Paris climate agreement.
Before you tell me again that it would be too expensive to do, remember that the US Federal Reserve bailed out banks with 29 trillion, while this project would cost about 100 billion. The money is there!
And if we charge corporations for exploiting the planet, the cost analysis would shift significantly, and we’d even all benefit here. So, let’s stop our governments from subsidizing fossil fuels, and instead spend money on protecting this planet. We can’t afford not to.
Nature-Based Solutions Work
In addition to the adorable rhodent we talked about earlier and the pseudo-beaver dams the researchers built, there are tons of good-mood hope-inducing projects already underway. In the Sundarbans, a mangrove forest surrounding a delta of three rivers in the Bay of Bengal, women are planting thousands of mangrove trees to create protective barriers. Because, naturally, mangrove trees are the best flood protection in an area where they are endemic. No human-made structure offers protection as effectively. Using knowledge passed down through generations, the women draw maps of the areas and decide where to plant mangroves for the best effect. Very modern, they then use apps to track the growth.
Mangroves and marshes have been shown as a key factor in battling the effects of climate change, so we need more projects than this one in the Sundarbans—which by the way isn’t government-funded but paid for by non-profits. Yet another example of governments failing to do what is needed, what is right.
And if you aren’t one of those people who could never decide which Rainforest Alliance chocolate to buy, because you wanted to protect them all, and didn’t get the whole concept, you probably picked the tigers or another big mammal. The mangrove forests of the Sundarbans are home to those, too.
Education is Key
Speaking of not grasping the concept: I believe education to be one of the key factors in this whole mess. We need to counteract the active efforts of corporations and governments to keep the general population uneducated, so they keep buying cheap nonsense.
And that’s where people like me come in: I’ll do everything I can to keep explaining biodiversity, its loss, and everything ocean-related to normal people like you and me. I’m a marine ecologist, conservation filmmaker, and photographer, and I won’t shut up.