Directing Human activities in a way that Nature can thrive
– By Aditi Kale
The Covid-19 Lock-downs exposed humans to less familiar but melodious sounds too — those of the biodiversity like birds, animals, and insects around us. Cities near mountains saw picturesque back-drops and even snow-clad mountains. And some cities at least saw the horizon due to less pollution. The lesson is common — Nature will revive if we let it!
The reason for the lock-down was a really sad and enormous setback for humanity. A marine ecologist at an American University was stressed as he had to abandon his study, on the effects of tourism and fishing on humpback whales in Antarctica. But on returning home the pandemic offered an unprecedented opportunity for similar studies of whales at Monterey Bay, USA near him. Reason: Lockdowns dramatically reduced noisy boat traffic, which stresses marine life, and thus the movement was the whales’ response to the human hiatus.
This phenomenon of drastically reduced human activity and the response of wildlife to it has a name… Anthropause (where Anthro means related to humans) and it was seen all around the world. Ever wondered why it was so obvious during the lock-downs — It is because we have pushed all ‘Non-Anthro’ biodiversity aka other species on pause or even stop on a massive scale at other times. The intense human activities like travelling, traffic, tourism, industries don’t just cause a one-time disturbance when they are built but also a continuos one due to all the movement involved.
However, can we take steps to ensure that we experience the same connection with nature… Always! Without an emergency? It is possible, yet, to address these issues if we make the right sort of efforts. But we must ACT NOW!
The invisible and yet important effect of the Anthropause was a reduction in carbon emissions (causing Climate Change) and also pollution levels in some regions. However, this effect was temporary. And we are nowhere on track to achieve reduced emissions and pollution levels, which is critical for human and environmental well-being.
Respecting the Connection between Biodiversity and Climate Change
It is now widely recognized that Biodiversity and Climate Change are interconnected. Climate change has mostly negative consequences on biodiversity and human well-being due to change in local conditions and extreme events like floods, storms, sea-level rise, etc. Biodiversity and native ecosystems, on the other hand; through the ecosystem services like preventing soil erosion, retaining soil moisture, resisting damages due to extreme events, river basin networks, groundwater recharge, etc.; are important for both reducing carbon emissions and improving the capacity of any region to face natural disasters and climate change.
The Covid-19 was an immediate existential threat, however, we are simultaneously facing two more scattered and deep crises- Climate and Ecological Crisis. We are having an impact on Environment like never before! The following figure shows just one way we are hugely impacting other species in the world.
The most effective and efficient carbon removal from the atmosphere occurs if we have patches of restored local ecosystem or wilderness rather than manicured patches of plantation or garden. Hence, restoring ecological habitats and maintaining stringent pollution and emission standards become very important for all people, institutions, industries and government. We are at a phase where every Environmental Action or Inaction will have a long-standing impact.
Land and Water plants take in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and thus act as natural sinks by removing this main greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. Trees and plants, however, do not exist in isolation; but have a symbiotic relationship with other organisms for pollination, seed dispersal, etc. They need their native/original ecosystems to thrive on their own; without human interventions (like plantations) which require intensive energy and water use. This entails conserving native ecosystems like the patches of forests, all water-bodies and wetlands, migration corridors; and protecting traditional conservation practices, like Sacred Groves in India, that already exist.
In addition, forest destruction adds to more carbon emissions as the carbon stored in the plant bodies gets released into the atmosphere. 11% of all global carbon emissions caused by humans are caused by deforestation —this is comparable to the emissions from all of the cars and trucks on the planet.
Restoring forests and water bodies play an important role in improving ecosystem services and environmental health. Intact ecosystems and all biodiversity are necessary for building better resilience to disasters. Consequently; restoring, conserving and sustainably managing biodiversity is critical to addressing climate change. The ecological crisis has reached such alarming extents, that Dr Robert Watson, Chair of the UN-Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Report 2019, said that — “The time for action (on Ecological Crisis) was yesterday or the day before”.
We don’t actually have to stop all our activities, but we do need to drastically slow down the rate at which we are destructing and interfering with the environment. Set our pace with Nature and thrive together. To give an analogy — does one chose a friend who manages his own finances well OR the one who doesn’t do so and constantly borrows from friends, every day, reducing their wealth? Right now, humanity is acting like that annoying friend who is hugely borrowing/exploiting earth resources. We need to reduce our demands and become better at our efficiency and management to live within our finite planet resources. Because we have Only One Planet as our home!
The good news is that ways to thrive without damaging Nature too much — are available, the bad news is that we are far behind in adopting them. And, thus, environmental degradation and its impacts are rising at alarming rates. If we don’t change our behaviour and actions soon, we may reach a point where our lives and livelihoods may receive pauses and setbacks, like COVID Lock-downs and even worser ones, due to environmental degradation.
PS — Pune International Centre organized an Online National Conference on 22–23 January 2021! It was a first of its kind initiative to open up a discussion on Climate Economics in India and promote the effort to synergize Economy and Environment. Visit our Website to know more.
Aditi is a Science Writer and Researcher who works with CCP. She has an academic background in biodiversity and is interested in Ecology, Evolution and Climate Change.