David Suzuki: Our marks on the planet don’t have to be permanent

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Last year, a group of international environmentalists published an article that offered benchmarks for achieving a ‘nature-positive’ world.


Geologists have classified most eras of Earth’s history based on fossils, radiometric dating, and strata composition.

The widely approved label for our current time, the Anthropocene, describes how our collective human imprint is changing the planet. It is a “proposed geological epoch dating back to the beginning of significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems”.

It is not surprising to hear that humanity’s impact is globally negative, as evidenced by global climate change, biodiversity loss and species extinction. Although life on Earth has undergone vast changes over millions of years, never before has a single species caused it.

Fortunately, in response to our negative impacts, many humans are engaged in repairing historical and ongoing ecological damage. Along with our long list of negative impacts, examples of positive effects abound.

However, actions that degrade and repair the planet’s ecosystems are not a zero-sum game. All the time, places are destroyed and restored, but they are not the same places, and the actions do not occur to the same extent. We haven’t repaired as much as we have degraded and destroyed. (In fact, most restoration initiatives are pet projects of the very industries that are damaging the earth.)

It is unrealistic to imagine that human lives, coupled with our many wants and needs, can ever be benign to the planet. But no one disputes that. Environmentalists around the world are advocating for societies to change the systems that oversee resource development and extraction so that ecosystem functionality – which sustains all life – can be maintained or restored.

Determining and maintaining thresholds to ensure ecosystem health is not easy. Much thought has gone into setting targets to tip the scales in favor of nature, so that initiatives to heal the planet prevail over activities that further degrade it, and ecosystem health can be restored. where it was lost.

Some scientists have argued that “nature needs half” — that half of the planet’s natural areas should be protected to maintain the processes that support human and non-human well-being. Considering we’re just one of about 10 million animal species, and many of the areas we reluctantly give up are covered in rocks, ice, and snow, that’s not much.

Last year, a group of international environmentalists published an article that offered benchmarks for achieving a ‘nature-positive’ world. The goals are to achieve zero net loss to nature after 2020, less damage than we repair by 2030 (become ‘net positive’) and achieve ‘full recovery’ by 2050.

A full recovery could mean a lot of things.

The Convention on Biological Diversity associates it with the maintenance of ecosystem services: “By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and used wisely, maintaining ecosystem services, supporting a healthy planet and providing benefits essential to all.”

Our federal government is attentive to these objectives and is committed to achieving them. However, it has not developed a plan outlining how these goals will be assessed and communicated, nor defined what full recovery would look like in the Canadian context.

But there is wind in the sails; the UN has even declared it to be the “decade of restoration”.

Our marks on the planet don’t have to be permanent. They have been placed by us and can be taken over or removed by us as well. We can apply the same ingenuity that we used to build the infrastructure that we imposed on the world around us to reconfigure. Roads that fragment wildlife can be removed and replanted with vegetation; dams that block fish can be demolished.

As the editors of the essay collection Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet write, acts of restoration provide us with an opportunity to explore the question: “How can we reorient the tools of modernity against the terrors of progress to make visible the other worlds he has? ignored and damaged? »

Our impacts on the planet are continuous. One way to view the Anthropocene is to recognize that we are continually shaping the world with every plan of development and restoration. Restoration initiatives give us the chance to hold ground, literally, until, as Barry Lopez wrote in his book Horizon, “industrial expansion comes to an end and begins to show signs of receding” and may the scales return to the health of the lands and waters and the life they support.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with input from Rachel Plotkin, Boreal Project Manager, David Suzuki Foundation.

@nowtoronto

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