As an environmental journalist, I was tormented daily by headlines like ‘Worm Apocalypse’ and ‘Half the Earth’s Wildlife Lost’ . At least as generations before us knew, the dangers of the natural world are unbearable to watch.
But if the collapse of global biodiversity that we are witnessing is not a critical cataclysm, it is simply a brief, bleak period in geological time. What if—that is, the time is ripe for the emergence of a new and better world when the health of our ecosystems is questionable, but if we have the courage to face it? In 2019, some scientists say we see macroscopic trends that are changing the world in ways we can hardly comprehend. These trends show that if we let the natural world endure and if conservationists keep our feet firmly on the planet, the natural world could undergo the greatest comeback in human history. there is
According to a recent study by three biochemists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the modern world is in the midst of just that—everything feels cramped, squeezed, cramped—but the situation is just as bad. There is light coming out of the tunnel.
A theory that turns problems into breakthroughs
Last year, WCS Senior Ecological Conservation Officer Eric Sanderson, WCS Deputy Director of Field Conservation Joseph Walston, and WCS Vice President of Conservation and Science John Robinson delivered a presentation titled “From Adversity to Breakthrough: Urbanization and The future of biodiversity conservation,” published an open access paper . The paper did not receive much media attention, and was only cited three times by Google Scholar since its publication. But what this theory claims is quite different from what many conservation scientists are claiming today – I heard them many times over drinks, so I’m not sure. do not have.
Intensifying urbanization in India. India’s birth rate has halved in less than 40 years.
Today, it is only slightly above replacement levels. Photo courtesy of WCS
The scientists’ “turning through adversity” doctrine suggests that if the global community continues to become more urbanized, fertility rates will decline (and gradually fall below replacement levels), no one will live in extreme poverty, and He speculates that the natural world will get a chance to make a comeback. Not in our lifetimes (our modern lifetimes will be left behind in troubled times), but our grandchildren’s generation will be much more promising than the world we inherited. It could take over the world.
The scientists said, “Two centuries from now, it is unlikely that we will have the world we have long awaited, where the population will be half what it is today, and where people will respect and care for nature. No,” he wrote. “Especially if we act now to foster this effect.”
Three important keys here are population, poverty and urbanization.
It is easy to see how a declining population would benefit the natural world. Fewer humans leave fewer footprints overall. Forests and ecosystems recover and species numbers rise again. Such phenomena are already known in areas where the population has stabilized or declined.
Urbanization accelerates this trend. Urbanization not only forces people to concentrate in smaller and more efficient spaces, but people who live in cities also tend to have fewer children, the scientists say. This is based on the fact that women living in cities, who are independent, educated and have opportunities to play active roles, have fewer children. Better health care in cities means lower fetal mortality, and as a result couples don’t have to worry about their children’s survival, so they try to have fewer children.
Population concentration in cities does not necessarily lead to greater environmental impacts, they say. Urban dwellers are significantly more likely to spend their wealth on housing, transportation and investments. They also tend to adopt more efficient systems into their lives, such as using less electricity and water and generating less waste per capita than suburban communities. Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas.
At the same time, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty continues to decline. Eradicating poverty is undoubtedly a new challenge, but arguably also a boon to the natural world, as they often depend directly on nature for their survival. At the same time, the researchers say, “education, law, economic policy, and social norms” can help separate increasing wealth from exploitation of natural resources and impacts on the environment. claims to have sex.
“This study doesn’t appeal to the public mind,” says Walston. “We underestimate the effects of these macros, and think we are largely unaware of their effects.”
He added that the forces “destroying nature” today “form the basis of the environment that ultimately regenerates and restores nature.”
The researchers are by no means in denial of today’s pressing research on wildlife and biodiversity, but rather by the fact that we are (ironically) linked to development, globalization, and market forces. We see a different future that emerges as a result of accepting these macro effects.
“It’s a fundamental problem… people don’t understand because it’s also going to the worst possible situation,” Walston said.
From Japan to Sub-Saharan Africa
In May of this year, the US Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the US birth rate had fallen to an all-time low of 1.76 per woman. This is well below 2.1, which is considered the replacement level (i.e., the proportion of the total population that does not change).
Of course, the real population in the United States will not decrease immediately for the following two reasons. The past baby boom demographics and immigration.
But the news shows that even the United States is not immune to the inevitable decline in fertility rates. As a nation grows into a developed country, poverty decreases, population flows to cities, and fertility rates gradually decline until the population stabilizes.
At the end of this transition, many countries, such as Japan and Portugal, will experience low or no extreme poverty, increased urbanization, and declining populations. Populations will decline and ecosystems will regenerate.
The once near-extinct American bison is greatly increasing in numbers in protected areas and indigenous lands. Photo credit: Kelly Stoner/WCS.
However, political reactions to these demographic changes are often negative. Politicians and economists seem frustrated with concerns about short-term economic growth at the slightest hint of population decline. In Japan, politicians have stepped into the issue, criticizing women who do not bear children and demanding that they become machines that give birth ”.
The media have followed economists and politicians in treating population decline as some kind of natural disaster. Such journalism denounces declining fertility without mentioning climate change, the environment, mass extinctions, or overpopulation. In 2017, then-Speaker of Congress Paul Ryan, the father of three, urged Americans to have more children, saying: “I did my part.”
But, according to Walston, what politicians and economists have struggled with so far is that they have been unable to find a way to stem the decline in fertility rates. I’ve been trying to coerce and all sorts of other things, but nothing has worked.”
The only way to increase the population, according to Walston and Sanderson, is to start another war. While war will create a baby boom, peace will prove to be a very good thing for stabilizing the world’s population (safety means not having to fear losing a child). is).
Walston says economists “tend to be conservative” about age transitions in societies that exhibit demographic trends in which the elderly outnumber the young.
According to him, “This is an economic problem that arises in the short term – by short term I mean decades or so -. But in the long run, like everyone The elderly will gradually die, the population will decrease, and the age structure will be adjusted.”
So far, only one region has bucked this global trend. Sub-Saharan Africa is in pervasive extreme poverty (Nigeria has more people in extreme poverty than anywhere else) and, perhaps as serious, is still stubbornly stuck in a high fertility rate. is in a situation where there is no Today, women in Sub-Saharan Africa have fewer than five children per woman – double the global average.
“I think African cities are the most important places to tackle conservation and humanitarian issues because these cities hold the secret to (population) stabilization,” Sanderson said. because there is.”
Regarding the global population crisis, there are estimates that the world population could reach 11.02 billion by 2100 due to the ongoing population growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. In this regard, Mr. Sanderson says that the “large” figure “is simply a projection of past fertility rates into the future.”
He also believes that Africa will “deploy much faster” than any other region.
For one thing, we already know how to improve health, well-being and education and can inform family planning. Second, Sanderson believes the region will see a sharp influx of capital from other countries eyeing new investment opportunities, particularly China.
“African governments are really the key. They need to work and get people’s trust,” he added.
Sanderson and Walston point to Rwanda, whose fertility rate has halved over the past 30 years, as an example of the end of the problem that African countries will almost certainly experience.
Mr. Sanderson also said, “Rwanda’s government really works.” It’s emerging as a great social trend that didn’t exist.”
He also added, “Rwanda is an image character.”
Nature conservation in the midst of adversity
Let’s assume Sanderson, Robinson, and Walston are correct. In short, we are in a phase of change, and in the future the earth will be much more natural and urbanized than it is today. So what do we do with this knowledge? How can conservationists and politicians support this change and ensure that wildlife survives when adversity emerges?
“We are facing great challenges,” Walston said. “Over the next few decades, by experiencing this adversity, we have the opportunity to have more nature in our hands, because everything we experience in taking over this world will be will be the first to achieve a splendid recovery.
According to their paper, in the midst of adversity for this ecosystem, there are five things conservationists must do in their countries. Setting up protected areas, conserving endangered biodiversity, supporting better urban development, supporting rural-to-urban migration, and regulating industries with high environmental impact to minimize their impact. It is to apply.
Although countries experience this adversity at different times, the initial response may all be the same.
First, “enable some of the natural world to weather this adversity,” says Walston.
In some ways, this refers to old conservation practices such as creating nature parks and conserving species.
“Although it has long been viewed as a polar opposite, forest conservation is a highly efficient, cost-effective, long-term strategy,” he said, explaining that the goal of conservation efforts in times of adversity is “to literally endure.” ‘ says Walston.
“Holding out is one of the most effective conservation strategies,” he continues. “Remember the people who founded Yellowstone National Park,” he said. “They thought the western part was lost.”
Walston said that if these conservationists saw what we see today in the American West—wolves returning, grizzly bear populations rising, and parks reconnecting across the Rocky Mountains—they would undoubtedly be “delighted.” I will cry at you.”
Half Earth is one of the dominant theories among conservationists today about the importance of protected areas . It was advocated by renowned scientist EO Wilson that we should leave half the planet untouched, both on land and in water, in order to prevent humans from causing mass extinctions in nature. It is said that
While Walston praises Half-Earth’s “ambitious and powerful declaration,” he says conservation efforts have become unnecessarily dull and pessimistic.
He added, “Our theory gives us a better way to achieve Half-Earth than any existing map analysis. Now, when everyone says Half-Earth is unachievable, we I seriously think that it is possible to reduce the number to more than half.”
Walston, who started his career as a conservationist in Thailand, says Thailand has given him new perspectives and ideas. “At the time, Thailand was ridiculed. When I started, Thailand was called the conservation boogeyman in South Asia. ”
But as poverty and birth rates fell, urbanization and self-government increased, Thailand’s natural world “started to move toward a resurgence. What is needed now in conservation efforts in Thailand is to connect the emerging middle class with natural heritage.” That’s it,” says Walston.
“We have helped them get back to what they consider to be their land. and incorporate innovative new conservation practices, such as conservation groups addressing issues and actually expanding protected areas.
Walston says even tiger populations are beginning to recover in Thailand , with the second largest population in 2017.
A nation that has overcome adversity has not gone through the process of losing and restoring nature all at once. The process was slow and took decades, and was not without failure. However, this means that the natural landscape has been released from a severe situation a little, has received public support, and has reduced the number of situations in which it falls into crisis.
Beyond adversity, the next step should be to make a “strong commitment” to establish transnational parks, community protected areas and interconnected parks, Walston said.
At their organization, WCS, Walston and Sanderson are already incorporating this doctrine of turning adversity into breakthroughs into their daily work. The WCS will focus heavily on the hardest-hit regions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, while also focusing more and more on urban areas.
More recently, the researchers used their theory to analyze the future potential of tigers in Southeast Asia.
Walston once again talked about how gorillas’ “persistence” in Rwanda led to an unexpected comeback.
“What an amazing thing Rwanda has been through in the last 30 years. , and is supported by the Government of Rwanda, giving the local and national economy a strong financial base.”
Today, Rwanda’s mountain gorilla population is on the rise.
“Even in the worst of times, conservationists are still active. That’s a basic strategy in times of adversity,” Walston said.
“In any case, our papers motivate us to do just conservation and urban planning, because our work now has the potential to yield huge returns in the long run.” Because it’s flexible,” Sanderson continues.
A sudden turning point for a comeback
JRR Tolkien devised the denouement of the world. This refers to the sudden, fortunate turn that is so common in mythology and literature. In other words, after the main character falls into a desperate crisis, he somehow manages to survive. Even almost catastrophic situations eventually come to a happy ending.
Tolkien effectively used this idea to direct his monumental work, The Lord of the Rings. As a Christian, he also believes that compassion has the power to overcome situations that seem real and dangerous.
“We’re approaching a tipping point of great proportions, and at that point everything will look dire,” Walston explains of his theory of “turning adversity into breakthrough.”
Walston et al.’s theory is based on a lot of evidence and data, but we have to come to some conclusions about what it all means. As a result, this theory will lead to probable predictions about our future.
Construction continues all day in Forest City, Malaysia. Forest City is the city with the most advanced mixed-use development. Country Garden has sold over 16,000 residential units to date. Most of the high-rise residential towers are prefabricated concrete structures or steel structures.
This is not fate. Idea. It’s intriguing, but it might turn out to be totally wrong.
“Success isn’t necessarily guaranteed,” the researchers say, but acting now on that dynamic could be humanity’s greatest opportunity to restore nature on a global scale. . – In other words, to achieve the denouement.
But they recognize that one of the threats that will ruin everything is global warming.
Sanderson calls warming a “wild card” because it “will be a tipping point and contributes to the long time it takes for the Earth system to recover.” .
If we allow the climate to become critical, mass extinctions will be inevitable.
But Sanderson argues that acting on their theory will lead to a less warming (cooler) world. The best – and least mentioned – way to deal with climate change is to move quickly to a less populated society.
Cities are also key.
“One of the most underrated responses to climate change is urbanization,” Walston said, citing the Global 40 Cities Climate Initiative C40 . “In many ways, ignoring national and federal governments, the cities of the world are coming together and working together, because people living in cities feel they are bearing the brunt of climate change, and they can do something about it. Because I feel I have the power to do it.”
Various predictions still hold for many assumptions. What if population trends in Saf-Saharan Africa did not decline like elsewhere? What if the world warms more than 2 degrees (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit)? What if consumption behavior and materialism go beyond the limit that we can protect the ecosystem? What if the bugs disappeared because we didn’t do anything ?
The researchers want to be clear that they are not advocating business as usual. Far from that. Nor am I saying that the current flow will naturally save us without doing anything.
“Some say the problem is getting worse because the population has grown so fast that the poor have risen, or because they have turned their backs on nature, thinking only technology and development are all-encompassing. ,” Sanderson said.
But he strongly opposes what he calls the “Twitter version” of environmental pessimism.
“Everything is going from bad to worse quickly, which means there is no point in doing anything. Walston and I find it very difficult to have a vision of the future we want, but I Our study shows how things actually happen, rather than focusing on how things can go wrong, as much of the conservation literature does.
In January of this year, a Chinese government-backed think tank announced that China’s population, the world’s largest, will plateau within a decade. The report expects China’s population to reach 1.44 billion in 2029 and decline from there. The press reacted heavily to the announcement, with the usual insane excitement.
But make no mistake. This is indeed great news, not only for modern humanity, but for climate, biodiversity and sustainability, except when it comes to the welfare of future generations.
Walston and Sanderson addressed demographic projections that by 2300, the world’s population will decline to 2.3 billion, less than a third of today’s population.
“None of the 2.3 billion people will live in poverty, and everyone will have access to all the technologies we have today and those that will be developed in the future. It’s a whole different world, and when it comes to that stage, the word conservation is not an accurate term.”
Humpback whale and calf. By the time the whale industry came to an end, humpback whale numbers were down to the thousands. Currently there are about 80,000. Photo credit: NOAA
What will the world be like then? I’m sure it’s rich, and it’s going to be a big circle.
I’ve been a journalist too long, and I’ve grown completely accustomed to the various ecological and sociological theories on the topic. But many of the points made by Sanderson and Walston are difficult to refute.
And I found myself imagining a different world than the one I inherited. I never saw it, but my grandchildren’s grandchildren might. For example, orangutans move to the rich plantations of Borneo, and lions live in new territories. Sumatran rhinos are transported back to mainland Asia, and Arctic right whale pups are so numerous that scientists lose track of how many are born each year. And people are saying, “Well, what shall we do?”
In a world where the global temperature is 1°C (1.8°F) cooler than today, humans will plant tropical forests on land that has long fallen fallow, and wolves will be heard in almost every 50 US states (Hawaii, I’m not saying transport wolves.) In this world, where the indigenous people of the Amazon hunt monkeys where they are legal, in Cuba they breed captive solenodons to reintroduce them into the forest, and where insects still rule the world. ing.
The world’s population is 2.3 billion. I don’t think about burning coal or oil for energy (how primitive!). Extreme poverty is a thing of the past. The cities are lush with greenery, the suburbs are abundant with forests and land, and nature can be reached in an hour from anywhere.
I know this world is a dream, an illusion. But I also know that this is not impossible. And not only does our generation have the power to start the denouement, it’s already working in our favor. we just have to choose it.