Scientists warned last week that a million species could go extinct, and it’s all our fault. Well, not “our” as in you and I, but “our” as in humanity.
No single person is responsible—maybe a few oil executives exempted— but our collective actions seem to have pushed the natural world toward collapse. Bad news, sure, but there are also choices the world can make to stop that from happening. Nothing is preordained.
Some solutions are better than others for saving nature, though. For this week’s Giz Asks, we asked scientists, including authors of the bombshell extinction report, about the most important actions society can take today to avert catastrophe. While you and I can eat a low impact diet or try to help scientists save endangered species or natural areas, ultimately those actions will never be enough. But if you want to know what will make a difference and what our mindset should be, these are the biggies according to science. Spoiler: none of them involve going to space.
Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES, the group that wrote the report) and biologist at National University of Cordoba, Argentina
“We should realize that that nature underpins all aspects of our life, so we are not truly ourselves without it. We should realize this in all aspects of our individual life and, critically in our economy, in the way we do business, in the way we develop infrastructure. We can stop the collapse of nature by no longer considering nature as unavoidable collateral damage of the human enterprise. By incorporating nature considerations in all sectors of the economy. Every time that something is done in business, construction, trade, travel, agriculture, mining, ask whether it is good or damaging to nature. If it is damaging, make sure that the right carrots and sticks are there to change this. If it is good, make sure it is given priority over other measures. If it is neutral, ask ourselves what could be done to make it positive.”
IPBES author and biologist at the Research Institute in Ecosystems and Sustainability, Mexico
“Basically [we need to] address harmful economic instruments such as subsidies, financial transfers, subsidized credit, tax abatements, commodity and industrial goods prices that hide environmental and social costs, which favor unsustainable production and wasteful use of natural resources. We can stop the collapse of nature and of societies by shifting radically the current dominant paradigm:
From: more economic growth, more consumption, higher yields, more profit NOW To: more sustainable, more resilient, more equitable, more responsible societies TOWARDS THE FUTURE
IPBES author and chair of the South American Research Group on Coastal Ecosystems, Simón Bolívar University, Venezuela
We need to do some very serious transformative change. By transformative change we refer to profound changes in the way we do things as a society. For these changes to happen, we need to implement the three “I’s”:
Integration - across all stakeholders and all people. Each one of us is part of the solution, and we need to share these solutions, from citizens, to scientists, to policy makers, to decision makers, being inclusive. The problems need to be tackled jointly, the solutions fit for purpose with the participation of everyone.
Innovation - by developing sustainable, environmentally friendly technologies and products that support our needs but that help lower or even revert the impact caused by the major drivers of this collapse. The drivers causing nature’s collapse are mostly the intervention and expansion in the use of land and ocean, exploitation of living resources, pollution (chemical and solid - plastics), climate change, and invasive species.
Information - we cannot manage what we do not know, so information is key. Monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystems needs to be done on a long-term and sustainable way to collect data to support decision making.
Fellow at the Safina Center
Large landscape conservation (LLC) is the best approach we have to mitigating climate change and biodiversity loss.
There are prime examples of LLC endeavors in North America for example the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative that seeks to boost landscape connectivity, biodiversity conservation, and collaboration including at the transboundary level and across five U.S. states, two Canadian provinces, two Canadian territories and the Traditional Territories of more than 30 indigenous groups. The Yellowstone to Yukon region contains core habitats and linkages and sustains a big diversity of wildlife species and significant wildlife migrations.
LLC is about scaling up how we address conservation challenges. In other words: thinking at the large landscape level and collaborating across boundaries, land zones, jurisdictions and sectors. LLC approaches engage a diversity of participants, involve public-private partnerships, and often include or emphasize connectivity planning, wildlife corridors, road mitigation projects, open spaces, water conservation, and easements.
ARC Future Fellow at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia
I think the key is to make nature VALUABLE. We need initiatives across the developing world that (1) help people realize the importance of nature on their own doorsteps, for their daily lives and future of their families, and (2) develop or encourage income generation schemes that give nature real financial value to local people, e.g. through sustainable use, tourism, etc. In the developed world, this is more complicated, as the value of nature is generally better understood, but governments can’t act without both public and industry support. I genuinely think that government terms are too short to be able to make sensible environmental decisions – governments appear to be afraid to take environmental steps because of short-term economic implications for their supporters, that might risk re-election. Hence I would love to see environmental decisions devolved to some alternative level to national government. In Europe for example, this could be the EU, which already has some legal responsibility for this. Alternatively, and in the opposite direction, decisions could be devolved more locally.
Beyond this we all need to behave environmentally in everything that we do. Create less waste. Re-use and recycle. Get on our bikes. Get out and see nature.