24 Nov 2017
The natural world provides us with many things essential to our existence: food, flood protection, clean water, climate stability and wellbeing. Without them, we wouldn’t survive. And yet we still destroy nature at an alarming rate. Changing land use, pollution, climate change, and the way we overconsume resources destabilises the ecosystems we depend on. If we want any kind of future as a species, we need to create ways to protect nature everywhere.
Nature and wildlife facts
- In the past 50 years, 60% of UK species have declined. Global species extinction in the 20th century was up to 100 times higher than it would have been without the impact of humans. This is the fastest rate of wildlife loss in the Earth’s 4.5 billion year history.
- Nature provides us with vital services. It regulates erosion, flooding, and climate. It supports photosynthesis and soil formation for food production. We can put a price on some of these services – but other cultural, aesthetic, and psychological benefits are incalculable.
- Wildlife in the UK used to be much more diverse and bountiful, with wolves, bears and lynx living here. Seas around the UK have been exploited by over-fishing, pollution, waste dumping and dredging and are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
- Places rich in biodiversity – like rainforests – are in danger of irreversible damage. If we let this happen, there will be significant consequences for all of us, including impacts on our climate.
Why taking nature for granted is a problem
Without healthy ecosystems humankind cannot survive, let alone thrive. And yet, even as our understanding grows, our destruction increases.
The rate that humans are changing landscapes, weakening ecosystems and reducing biodiversity is escalating, decade by decade. We’ve replaced forests with plantations for paper and palm oil – farms for cattle or soy. Industrial fisheries have depleted our oceans and marine habitats have been damaged by pollution and acidification. The vast majority of UK wildflower meadows have disappeared. And climate change is adding to the problem.
Much of this damage comes from rich countries’ consumer habits, growing populations, and a mindset that we are separate from nature and can control it. Western lifestyles – especially our excessive meat- and dairy-rich diets – put immense strain on land and water use as well as damaging our health.
Despite the threat to our wellbeing, there has been little political action to stop nature exploitation. Politicians routinely champion economic growth over everything else. Leaders ignore the fact that a healthy economy is critically dependent on healthy ecosystems and protected wildlife.
Ways to protect nature and wildlife
People care about nature. Friends of the Earth’s Bee Cause campaign inspired individuals, communities and businesses to plant bee-friendly spaces. Over 500,000 people responded to a public consultation by the European Commission about the future of EU laws that protect nature. It isn’t too late to protect existing wildlife and bring nature back into our countryside, towns and cities.
We need to:
Change how we govern. Governments must recognise that nature is a global, shared resource for all. It is not a resource to exploit for short-term profit. The land rights of indigenous communities need to be acknowledged – when communities have control over their natural resources, biodiversity is better protected.
Fund nature restoration. A healthy natural world supports our economy and deserves public finance. Funding to restore nature needs to be substantially increased. Subsidies that incentivise damaging activities must end.
Reduce consumption. Bioenergy and demands for meat, dairy and paper are increasing far more than our ecosystems can handle. We must make better choices – like eating less meat – to find a sustainable balance.
Value nature’s worth. We need to value nature for all its benefits. Economists must accept that nature’s value is more fundamental and complex than monetary calculations allow for.
Protect wildlife. It is crucial we protect areas rich in wildlife from further development and damaging activities. This requires strong laws and a commitment to enforce them.
Enhance nature in farming and fishing. Our food production methods and pest management systems have to change. Landscapes destroyed by intensive farming must be restored to boost declining populations of species such as bees and butterflies.
Make space for nature everywhere. We need nature for our wellbeing. We can and should bring nature into our urban areas, creating green roofs, wild roadsides – even converting some roads and car parks to green spaces. New developments should be required to retain existing and incorporate new nature and green space.