As the world’s population grows, the need for new space for homes and businesses grows. The need to produce food to feed the more than 8 billion people who now inhabit planet Earth leads to the incursion of farming operations into the Amazon rain forest, Africa’s jungles and savannah lands, and the Great Plains of the United States.
The impacts have been devastating and threaten not just our quality of life but our future as well.
This week marks the start of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal, with its goals to agree to new targets for biodiversity conservation, restoration, and management. It will include representatives 0f 190 nations.
The need for change is imperative.
“Our planet is in crisis,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said last month. She goes on to say that more than one million species are threatened with extinction and the populations of many animal groups in the world have declined by nearly 70%.
Nearly 3 billion birds have disappeared from the U.S. and Canadian avian populations since 1970. It is a shocking number that should give us a sense of shame, dread, and motivation.
Our forests have suffered the worst in sheer numbers, with an estimated 1 billion birds lost. Not far behind are the grasslands of America and Canada, with 700 million birds gone. Still, those numbers represent over half of all grassland birds, researchers found. The study reported that 74 percent of grassland bird species are in decline.
We think the vast Great Plains should be a haven for grassland birds; not so.
“The Great Plains lost more grassland to agriculture in 2014 than the Brazilian Amazon lost to deforestation,” says a recent report from the World Wildlife Fund. As crop genetics improve the ability of corn, soybean, and wheat crops to grow in less fertile soils and more challenging climates, more of the Great Plains fall under the plow.
The goals of managing and promoting biodiversity conservation, restoration, and management are meant to establish frameworks to shape sustainable development for the next decade. Natural Capital Project scientists at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment will contribute to research at the conference.
The focus of their work will “demonstrate how nature conservation contributes to human well-being at local and global scales,” an article on their research published by the University of Minnesota says. Ecosystem maps they produce are “not only essential to the nearby local communities but contribute to the well-being of every person on the planet.”
Their “findings show that conserving 30 percent of the Earth’s land and 24 percent of coastal waters would sustain 90 percent of nature’s contribution to human well-being. This vital relationship between humans and nature has enormous cultural and economic value by providing food, drinking water, protection from hazards, mental and physical well-being, and many other priceless benefits,” it adds.
They hope the maps they are developing will influence the decision-makers at national, state, and local levels as they look toward future development to accommodate a growing population and inform them of the importance of conservation policies and investments.
The U of M scientists believe through their research, a balance can be struck between providing benefits to humans and protecting the other species that inhabit Earth.
“In fact, this analysis shows that prioritizing these critical natural areas and the benefits to people they provide simultaneously advances development, conservation and climate mitigation goals,” the U of M article says.
Proving their findings and educating the public on their goals are critical to their work. The biggest pushbacks to environmental protections have come from those who say preserving ecosystems hurts economic development. Or it results in programs that take away the rights of landowners. Showing mutual benefit will ease these tensions.
Preservation of natural areas will become increasingly challenging and essential as our state, country, and world populations continue to grow. Their health and future is tied to ours.
We will also see an increased value attached to natural areas that will draw people to the communities and regions of the state that have done a good job of enhancing the natural landscapes surrounding them.
Land has been annexed to cities for housing and industry. Perhaps, one day it will be purchased and annexed for the preservation of nature.
Today’s, and we believe increasingly tomorrow’s, efforts to attract people to our rural communities to work in our businesses and industries will be centered on what we have to offer and that they see as giving them a closer connection to nature. Job creation doesn’t happen without active policies centered on people creation efforts – what are families and individuals looking for that enriches their lives after work.
“These valuable ecosystems can be found in every corner of the planet,” the U of M article says. “Some are well-known environmental powerhouses, like the Congo Basin forests. Others may fly under-the-radar, like the Appalachians in the U.S., but each one is vital to the respective communities it serves.”
With thousands of small communities, counties, and regions doing their part to preserve ecological systems, we will see much more significant benefits.
But we must also work to convince lawmakers in our state and federal governments that their action to preserve ecosystems is critical.
We used to see such environmental efforts as those pushed by leftist environmental activists and, at times, extremists. Not anymore. Today the evidence is so overwhelming of the damage and severe consequences to humankind that these efforts now have broad support among people with a wide range of political leanings.
There will come a time when the vast majority of us will see protecting the environment as a critical priority, a public need, and a good that urgently needs everyone’s support.
“Recognizing the way people benefit from and rely on nature can help create lasting buy-in for conservation,” the U of M study says.