Views & Reviews
Inaction is More Costly Than Ecosystem Restoration
The earth is just a speck of dust among the trillions of galaxies and the stars within those galaxies in the observable universe. Yet, planet earth is special because of its unique ability to support life. A planet we call home and mother. A home that provides for our needs and supports uncountable number of plants, animals, fishes, birds and other small and microorganisms. Among the millions of species that cohabit this blue planet, it is us humans that has taken more than our due share that mother earth could provide.
Since the beginning of human existence, we have grown, procreated and advanced our civilisation by exploiting natural resources. We have cut down the trees to build homes, to keep ourself warm, to clear land for cultivation and farming. We harvest the fishes and other marine animals for food, hunt wild animals and breedlivestock. We are extracting every known valuable mineral from the earth, conquered the oceans and the skies – and now venturing into the deep space for want of knowledge, resources or a possible second home. In time, we have proved that humans are the most invasive and pervasive species on earth. For our want of comfort and to meet our insatiable appetite we have ruined the natural environment, polluted our skies, the seas and the rivers with toxic gases, chemicals and garbage; denuded the pristine forest, mountains and valleys; exterminated so many other species; only at the peril of our own.
It is true that we cannot grow and advance without exploiting the natural resources and making the best use of them. However, the earth’s plentiful resources are not limitless and they are depleting at a rate that is faster than that has happened at any generation in the past. The inherent human nature of competition to amass wealth and resources has led to over exploitation of natural resources, preventing natural environments to regenerate and restore itself to its normal functioning system. In the process, we are destroying and altering the ecosystems – the very foundations that underpin life.
Ecosystems are the web of life on earth. It comprises of all the living organisms and the interactions among them. Ecosystems can be as large as a forest, or as small as a pond; and include forests, rivers, wetlands, grasslands, estuaries, coral reefs and other human modified ecosystems such as villages, cities and farmlands. Ecosystems are crucial to human societies, providing us with clean air, water, food, resources and a host of other essentials. They also provide us witha stable and habitable climate and are home to all the species of this earth. Therefore, the health of life on earth depends upon the health of the ecosystems. In other words, life thrives as ecosystems thrive and vice versa.
Scientific estimates show that half of the world’s GDP is dependent on nature and at least 2 billion people depend on the agricultural sector for their livelihoods. Study made by Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES, 2018), shows that ecosystem degradation is already affecting the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people, that is, 40 percent of the world’s population, and that up to 700 million people could be displaced due to land degradation and climate change by the year 2050. Another study made by Johnson et al. (2020) estimates that up to $10 trillion in global GDP could be lost by 2050 if the ecosystem services continue to degrade. It is also a known fact that ecosystem degradation increases human-animal conflicts and are also linked to the outbreaks of deadly diseases. Evidently, most of the world’s poorest are those who are deprived of land and forest or are living in a degraded environment.
The good news however, is that most of the earth’s ecosystem could be restored. It won’t be quick and easy, but given time and effort, nature has the marvelous ability to restore things back to normal. The fact of the matter is that nature can restore itself or create something newentirely. However, many species, including humans, may not have the ability to cope with the changing environment and could perish before the ecology or their habitat is restored. Earth has outlived many species including dinosaurs; it can certainly outlive humans. Conservation and restoration activities are therefore, a vital tool to sustain life on earth.
Chernobyl is a word that is associated with disaster. The once populous area was turned into a ghost town following the nuclear disaster that took place in 1986. The area is still considered radioactive and the people living nearby are deprived of their right to use the forest resource, at least for the next 300 years, because of the potential effects of radiation. However, recent video footage shows that the area is thriving with all sorts of plants, vegetations and wild animals. A healthy and thriving forest has emerged from the ruins of human settlement within a period of three and a half decades, telling us that nature and wildlife are more resilient to shocks and can adapt faster to an environment which is considered deadly for humans.
Keeping in mind, the fast degeneration of several ecosystems across the world, the UN has chosen this year’s world environment day (WED) theme as “ecosystem restoration” and has proclaimed the next decade as the“UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration” following a proposal and resolution for action by over 70 countries. The decade on restoration aims to halt the degradation of ecosystems and restore them to achieve global goals. Restoration activities can help reduce poverty, combat climate change and prevent species extinction.
According to the UN’s WED portal 2021, ecosystem restoration means assisting in the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed, as well as conserving the ecosystems that are still intact. Restoring ecosystem, therefore, means protecting their biodiversity and helping them to deliver benefits for people and nature. It means using ecosystems, on land and in the oceans, in ways that strengthen their natural resources and processes. Action for restoration can also mean preventing degradation or reducing its extent. Restoring ecosystems protects and improves the livelihoods of people who depend on them. It also helps to regulate disease and reduce the risk of natural disasters.
Restoration can happen through direct human intervention or by removing pressures so that nature can recover on its own. It is estimated that between now and 2030, restoring 350 million hectares of degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems could generate as much as $9 trillion in ecosystem services. Restoration could also remove 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The economic benefits of such interventions exceed nine times the cost of investment; whereas inaction is at least three times more costly than ecosystem restoration, says a UN report.
Therefore, this world environment day, let us remind ourselves that our lives are intricately linked to the wellness of the ecosystems and the myriads of species that surrounds us; and thus, be mindful of our habits, choices and actions that have a positive or negative impact on our environment.
(Dr. N. Janbemo Humtsoe)