“I have lived on planet earth for almost 90 years, and during that time have seen many changes, including those affecting the environment. As a child, growing up in the UK, I spent hours in our garden, watching the animals birds and insects – now 80 years later, due to the use of pesticides and herbicides, pollution, habitat destruction and other harmful human activities, our garden has lost over half of the bird species and probably around 90% of insects. When I was young you could not leave a window open at night, if there was a light on, because almost instantly your room would be full of moths and other night insects – now I am excited if one moth flies in. And as we are now aware, insects – that form a major part of the diet of countless animals – are decreasing at an alarming rate world wide. And this includes bees and other pollinators that we rely on to fertilise our crops.
Sadly we are in the midst of the 6th great extinction of plant and animal species – this one caused by human activities. Caused by our disrespect of nature, and the unsustainable way we plunder our planet’s finite natural resources.
It is important to stress that loss of biodiversity is increasingly triggered by climate change. A major impact of climate change on biodiversity is the increase in the intensity and frequency of hurricanes and typhoons, flooding, periods of drought, heatwaves and wildfires. And this adds to the threats to biodiversity already caused by habitat destruction, pollution, ocean acidification. growth of human and livestock populations and so on. In other words, slowing down climate change and protecting biodiversity go hand in hand.
Sadly so many have become disconnected from the natural world – young people preoccupied with social media and video games and parents with long work hours – modern life comes between us and nature and what you do not know or understand you are less likely to respect and protect.
It is our disrespect of the natural world that has led to climate change and biodiversity loss. it is so important to understand that we are part of the natural world – and depend on it for clean air, water, food – everything. What we depend on, though, is healthy ecosystems. An ecosystem is made up of a complex and interdependent mix of plants and animals, each with a role to play. I see it as a beautiful living tapestry. Each time a species goes from that ecosystem it is as though a thread is pulled from the tapestry and if enough threads are pulled the tapestry hangs in tatters and the ecosystem collapses – and that is happening already.
So it is clearly of great importance that we work hard to protect existing intact ecosystems and restore those that are damaged. We must create a balance between present human need and protection of the environment for future generations. At the moment we are so often using nature’s finite natural resources for immediate gain without thought of the future.
Fortunately there are many organisations today working on creating a more sustainable relationship with the natural world – and nature is amazingly resilient if we give her a chance. Places that have been utterly destroyed – such as an abandoned quarry or a terribly polluted river or lake – can, with time and some help – once again begin building up the diversity needed to make up a healthy ecosystem.
In 1960 I began my chimpanzee research in Tanzania. The Gombe national park – where we are still studying the chimpanzees – was part of the great forest belt that stretched across equatorial Africa. 20 years later the park was just a small island of forest surrounded by bare hills. More people where living there than the land could support, cutting down trees to make more land for growing crops, or money from timber or charcoal. Poor communities struggling to survive.
In 1994 JGI Tanzania initiated a really successful holistic community led conservation project (Tacare) in the villages around Gombe. We introduced agro forestry, water management programmes, microfinance opportunities for them to start their own small environmentally sustainable businesses, and scholarships to give girls a chance of higher education. The program is now in villages throughout most of the chimpanzee range in Tanzania and people understand that protecting the forest is not just for wildlife, but their own future. Now trees have sprung up on the once bare hills. Some trees were planted around the villages, but the rest have grown from seeds lying dormant in the ground. And Tacare is now in 6 other African countries where we work to conserve chimpanzees and their environment.
The resilience of nature is a real reason for hope. Once nature is respected and habitats are protected or restored, animals that were endangered can be given another chance. This was the case with the Giant Panda that is now off the endangered species list.
I’m really encouraged by the growing number of “Rewilding” programmes which are very successful in some countries where large areas have been set aside for wildlife. . In some cases animal species that had been extinct for years have been successfully reintroduced. And increasingly we realise the importance of green corridors linking protected areas, as these allow animals to move in search of food or mates. Even simple actions – such as the decision to let wild flowers grow along the verges of the roads – make a big difference, especially for butterflies and other insects. And more and more bridges are being built over main roads at places where animals are known to cross.
Another reason for hope is the energy and commitment of young people once they know the problems and are empowered to take action. Back in 1991 I found young people – even then – were losing hope “Our future is being destroyed” they said, “and there is nothing we can do about it.” But I told them “here was a window of time to start healing the harm we have inflicted. But we must take action. Thus my humanitarian and environmental programme for young people, Roots & Shoots was born. It is now in 68 countries with members from preschool through university. Groups are planting trees, cleaning up beaches and raising awareness about environmental issues. They are making an impact in their communities and inspiring others to do the same. And as we began R&S over 30 years ago, many members are now adults and some have gone on to become leaders in protecting the environment and its wildlife. All respect the natural world.
It is urgent that each one of us plays a role in reversing loss of species and climate change. We must remember that each of us makes an impact on the planet every day. Let us make ethical choices in what we buy, eat and wear, how we interact with people, animals and nature. And let us share stories of all the reasons why we can have hope that we can save the world, for without hope we fall into apathy and do nothing. If this happens, we are doomed.
Another reason for hope is that more and more scientists are working to find technological solutions to enable us to live in harmony with nature. Given that slowing down climate change is helping species to survive, one important example is the increasing use of renewable energy from sun, wind tides and so on. There are even machines that suck CO2 from the atmosphere and store it safely. Electric cars are getting increasingly environmentally friendly as scientists work on better ways of making batteries with greater storage capacity
We must not forget though that it is equally important to protect the natural world, especially forests and the ocean, the two great lungs of the world that sequester CO2 from the atmosphere and give us oxygen. Other ecosystems also store a great deal of CO 2 such as wetlands and grasslands. Safeguarding these natural carbon sinks from further damage is an important part of limiting climate change and thus protecting biodiversity..
Another reason for hope is that more and more people are becoming vegetarian and best of all vegan. The billions of animals raised for meat in factory farms around the world need to be fed. Huge areas are cleared to grow grain to feed them. Huge amounts of fossil fuel is used to change vegetable to animal protein, and the animals produce huge amounts of methane in their digestion – a very potent greenhouse gas.” Dr Jane Goodall