Editor’s note: Lydia Strohl is a freelance writer in Washington, DC. More of his work can be found here. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. See more reviews on CNN.
When I learned that October 22 is Earth Day, I thought that the date is six months after Earth Day. (True.) But it has its own message.
Half the Earth is that for humans to survive, we must stop the decline of Earth’s biodiversity, saving half the planet for nature, stabilizing large parts of oceans, prairies, jungles and deserts, to preserve the birds, insects and ecosystems that affect our water. drink, the food we eat, the air we breathe. Not to mention the economies, cultures and past times that sustain us.
The Half-Earth Project was inspired by the legendary Harvard biologist EO Wilson, who died in 2021 at the age of 92. In “Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life,” Wilson wrote, “We would be wise to find our way out. As quickly as possible, out of the fever swamp of dogmatic religious belief and inept philosophical thought in which we still walk. Humanity has much more to do with global biodiversity.” If it doesn’t learn and move quickly to protect it, we will soon lose most of the species that make up life on Earth.”
This means that we, people, are what Wilson calls “a lucky accident of late Pleistocene primate evolution.”
Not a particularly happy accident, perhaps, for planet Earth. Since 1970, the world’s population has doubled to almost 8,000 billion. And in those five decades, monitored wildlife populations have declined by an average of 69%, warns the Living Planet Report, the World Wildlife Fund’s study of the abundance of species around the world (select vertebrate species; others are difficult to track). Freshwater populations have been the hardest hit, dropping 83% in this time period. A million species of plants and animals, out of 8 million, are at risk of extinction.
It is time to change our ways using to the manager earth’s resources People cannot prosper at the expense of nature. Latin America has experienced a dramatic 94% decline in species populations. Meanwhile, deforestation for crops and livestock, legal and illegal mining and logging, development and devastating fires have contributed to the loss of 20% of the Amazon rainforest, an area the size of France. This affects not only the 350 indigenous communities and untold species of plants, animals and insects that live there, but everyone, as the 400,000 billion trees that make up the Amazon rainforest produce 6% of the earth’s oxygen.
What made humans more comfortable on earth now threatens the planet: energy, food production, housing growth and commercial development. These are all systems that Wilson believes we need to rethink. But as the problem is with us, so is the solution.
To get people to take action, Jennifer Morris, CEO of The Nature Conservancy, believes it’s important to talk about what’s important to them, citing health care, clean air and jobs. Morris spoke at the recent Half-Earth Day conference hosted by the Smithsonian Institution and the EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, bringing together government, community, corporate and conservation stakeholders such as The Nature Conservancy, Audubon and the Bezos Earth Fund. “Governments won’t move until people move,” Morris said.
Problems are thorny, however: even the most ambitious efforts can affect Mother Nature. “The biggest threat to Virginia’s forests is the sun,” Morris said, referring to clean energy projects slated to clear thousands of acres of trees. “We can be smart about where we put sun and wind… in a way that doesn’t undermine biodiversity,” Morris added.
The Half-Earth Project looks at growth from nature’s perspective, with tools that map the richness and rarity of wildlife populations, as well as human pressures and existing protections, with the aim of informing conservation and development. I dial their online map to my community, close to the garish orange urban mass of Washington, DC, but dotted with green conservation areas established by both public and private authorities.
The EO Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory, located in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, once ravaged by civil war and other human ills, provides a model not only for rebuilding biodiversity, but for training new biologists and conservationists. The Half-Earth project also involves indigenous communities – who have traditionally balanced human needs with nature – in their programs, bringing together the past and the present to work together towards a sustainable plan for our future.
While the first Earth Day was in 1970 to celebrate conservation efforts, Earth Day is more about caution. Whatever your beliefs about climate change, this much is clear. We are losing great white sharks and the harpy eagle, the inspiration for ‘Fawkes’ from the Harry Potter films. Gone are the Bramble Cay melomys, a small rodent whose habitat, food source and nesting sites were wiped out by storms and unprecedented flooding. You may never see a pink dolphin, but the interplay of plant, animal and insect species sustains us.
Tackling a problem of this scale requires everyone – from those sitting in government and boardrooms to our kitchen tables – to come together. Too often, “solutions” were shaken between administrations with their own political agenda. “Meanwhile, we shuffle along, wildly driven, with no particular goal other than economic growth, unrestricted consumption, good health, and personal happiness,” Wilson wrote. He put his faith in nature, and so should we.
“We have to listen to what the birds tell us. We’ve lost three billion birds in my lifetime,” says Audubon CEO Elizabeth Gray, 50. “Birds are guardians of healthy land and water; if birds are in trouble, so are people.”
The canary is singing. Listen before you turn off your voice.