As scientists are continuously evaluating the vital signs of our Earth, the diagnoses are coming back less and less promising if we continue our society’s way of life in this unsustainable direction.
So, we’ve all heard it before – climate change. There are seemingly endless lists of negative ramifications that are the result of human perturbation on natural ecosystems including the alteration of land use in physical and chemical ways. Due to anthropogenic activity (industrialization, coastal runoff, nutrient loading, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, pollution, etc.), we as a global society are experiencing declines in water quality, air quality, endangered species populations, and rainforest coverage, with accompanying coral reef degradation and accelerated rates of ice caps melting. Now, many species are vulnerable and at risk due to these changes – polar bears, bees, tigers, sea turtles, panda bears, and more. Oftentimes, when light is shed upon these issues, it is in the context of loss – lost ecosystems, lost species, lost habitats, lost resiliency. We rarely hear these sensitive subjects discussed in terms of gain, a concept we as a society seem obsessed with.
So, do we stand to gain anything amidst this environmental crisis? Well, nothing good. There is more and more evidence to suggest that as we cross this threshold into a new ecological regime, we will gain more and more harmful algal blooms (HABs) and massive algal blooms in riverine systems and in the ocean. There is already evidence suggesting these massive Sargassum (seaweed) blooms impacting and inundating the Caribbean Islands at increasing rates per year could be the result of nutrient inputs from the Amazon River basin, as a result of land use conversion and deforestation. Eutrophication, which is characterized by an excessive development of seaweed and algae as a result of pollution of groundwater and river water by nitrate or phosphate, is a slow process which has a deferred character, meaning it could take several years for a drop of nitrate to seep into the soil and find its way into a river. The effects of deforestation on the continental nitrate and phosphate inputs can be felt years later. So, as we lose the gemstones of rainforests and coral reefs, we gain nuisances such as seaweed and algae. Unfortunately, we also stand to gain more and more plastics pollution, as plastic production continues, which research has found to be extremely harmful to marine life. Lastly, as industrialization increases to accommodate population growth, the increase in impervious surface (concrete) will lead to more intense flooding in the future.
Okay, so we know the problem – we stand to lose so much and there’s nothing good to be gained by ignoring these cries for help from our Mother Earth. But what can be done? It seems as though so many individuals these days have adopted a mindset of complacency and indifference. “Okay, but so what? There’s nothing that can be done – this is just how things are” or “The earth can handle it,” or “It’s over my head and it’s not really my problem” or my personal favorite, “We can’t ban plastic bags because grocery stores will suffer.” These mindsets are dangerous to the future of our societies, and at their core the arguments are rooted in hopelessness, or indifference. First, a mindset shift will be required. Individuals must adopt a mindset of hope and awareness in order for anything to get done.
So here, in spite of all of this doom and gloom, I aim to offer a vision of hope and confidence with the intention of raising awareness within individuals who are reading this magazine. We often forget that we are nature. When we have lost a connection to nature, we have lost a connection to ourselves. We must reconnect to nature, and to ourselves. Imagine lots of little people taking action in lots of little places. Then, eventually, BIG change would take place.
Here, I offer what I consider to be necessary from both a planning and management perspective, as well as for individuals.
Some of them may seem radical, or require a shift in lifestyle, but doesn’t Mama Earth deserve our efforts, after she sustains us so much? The Earth has an incredible ability to restore itself, and restore ecosystems, just as we can recover from broken bones and scraped knees. We must never grow complacent, or hopeless, and we must never become indifferent to these issues. Rather, we must love Mother Earth, respect her, honor her, and protect her. We must plant these seeds of hope and restoration today, so that future generations can enjoy the fruits of our efforts. We must believe that every little effort counts.