Sunday, April 21, 2013

Earth Day 2013: Is There Hope?

As we celebrate Earth Day 2013, it’s difficult not to be a bit depressed about the impact of our species on the planet:
·         The loss of biodiversity across much of the planet continues to advance and species extinction rates are growing rapidly. Some scientists warn that we are now at the beginning of one of the most severe mass extinction events since the dinosaurs died out.
·         As our cities grow, they gobble up vitally important natural areas and agricultural land.
·         The honeybee is struggling across the globe and monarch butterfly numbers have dropped precipitously in the last year.
·         Many of our most important native pollinators are threatened with lost habitat.
·         Amphibians (especially frogs) are declining rapidly with many heading toward extinction.
·         Non-native invasive species of plants and animals threaten all parts of the globe.
·         The world’s oceans are in great trouble with a collapse of species diversity and abundance. Important and fragile coral reefs are disappearing rapidly.
·         More of our rivers and streams are becoming polluted and degraded.
·         Safe and clean drinking water is becoming scarcer.
·         Our reliance on fossil fuels causes a myriad of problems, including worldwide pollution and regular scarring of the landscape (and oceans).
·         Our transportation infrastructure greatly fragments the land.
·         In our part of the world, the prairie ecosystem has been significantly altered (the tallgrass prairie is mostly gone) and many creatures that evolved along with it are imperiled. And to top it off, high corn prices mean even greater pressure to remove trees and convert grassland and other wild habitat to a few more acres of production.
·         The few wild areas we do have are greatly fragmented making it difficult for many important wildlife species to move and adapt to a changing environment.
Many other problems could be added to the list. Perhaps most importantly now is the impact of a warming planet and a rapidly changing climate. Although no one knows exactly what that will mean for natural ecosystems, few experts believe there will be many positive outcomes. In simplest terms, human activity is now mostly in the way of the natural processes that favor biodiversity and ecological health. With a global population of 7 billion heading toward 10 billion in a few decades, the pressures on Mother Earth will certainly mount.
Regal Fritillary - A prairie butterfly that could use our help.
As discouraging as it all sounds, this article is not meant to be a wallow in gloom and doom but rather to suggest there is hope. Though it’s true that humans do cause environmental harm, we must first accept that humans are part of the environment just like every other creature. In that regard, all living organisms impact the natural world in some form or another as they go about their quests for survival. Above all other species, humans have figured out how to exploit the environment in ways that have allowed us dominate the globe. To the victors go the spoils so to speak.
However, since we are the most sentient of beings, we have evolved the unique ability to understand that our impact on the planet not only imperils ecosystems, it imperils our own long-term survival as well. We now clearly realize (though maybe not some on the far right of the political spectrum) that our survival depends on the broader ecological health of the Earth. We are an incredible animal with an amazing ability for creative problem solving. And I choose to believe that our species can solve many of our biggest environmental problems. Indeed we have to!  In the next blog post I’ll offer some evidence as to why I have hope and I’ll also suggest some simple ways that we all can help the environment right where we live.
Justin Evertson
Green Infrastructure Coordinator

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