This post is the second in a series of blog posts on how man is gradually destroying Nature’s vital interconnections. The series explores possible ways that humanity can work with Nature to conserve these extremely important connections.
The six blog posts in this series are:
- Nature’s Broken Links – Man’s Massive Impact On This Planet.
- A Strategy For Restoring Nature’s Ecosystems
- Edges – Connections Between Ecosystems
- Biosphere Reserves – Reconnecting Nature’s Land Masses
- Ecological Corridors – Nature’s Wilderness Highways.
The ideas presented in this series are consistent based upon the credo for this blog which contains three premises that are critically important if we are to preserve the environment in which we humans must live and survive.
- Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. Everything, including ourselves, is connected to everything else.
- Conservation is the act of identifying and preserving Nature’s interconnections.
- Hope for mankind’s future comes from instilling a deep connectivity consciousness in our youth.
I hope the material will be useful to all of you who are stewards of Nature who are looking for ways to conserve Her. The material in this series will be helpful to environmental educators as they plan lesson sets. Soon, I will be reorganizing this material into lesson plans. I also hope that students will use the information to develop their own presentations and projects.
Writing the first blog post in this series was depressing for me. The scientific facts that I presented, gathered by others, paint a dismal picture of mankind’s future. Aldo Leopold said:
“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds“.
The Anthropocene is defined by exponential human population growth, the huge demand for food and natural resources to sustain this growth, the pollution of the planet, the obsession with economic growth within the human “me” and “now” generation, a disconnect with Nature primarily because of urban living, and the steamroller of political and social will that is driven by a few powerful groups that serve only the present generation with disregard for the future. I travel in Nature in my camper every summer where I see living proof of the Anthropocene. I see wall-to-wall people and fences in rural and urban settings. Noise and crowds exist even in our national parks, forests, and campgrounds. ATVs and RVs with generators serve a human population that is so totally distracted that pleasures of engaging Nature don’t exist. I return from these trips both depressed and glad that I’m old enough that I won’t be around to see the ruin that is sure to happen unless things change.
But, the optimist in me keeps me going as I struggle to find hope in the form of Nature’s restoration. Little by little, I see encouraging rays of light emerging from humanity. It is these positive and growing conduits of human endeavor to restore Nature that I want to address in the remaining blog posts in this series.
First, I want to emphasize that Nature is resilient all by herself without any help from mankind. I did a recent webinar on biodiversity and resilience which I hope you will view. The webinar will show you how resilience in Nature works.
Resilience within ecosystems is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and to reorganize while external environmental changes take place. Change is a normal part of Nature. Evolution is change. Resilience doesn’t resist or prevent change. It works to bring all parts of an ecosystem into harmony as changes do take place. Resilience is the adaption mechanism inside of a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem. Nature’s ecosystems use at least three strategies to achieve resilience. They are
- The robust architecture of Nature’s special energy flow networks.
- Feedback mechanisms within Nature’s ecosystems.
- The self organization and emergent behavior of ecosystems.
The details of these strategies are explained in the webinar noted above and in my book . By understanding Nature’s resilience strategies, stewards of Nature have the means to understand and protect Nature’s connections. By identifying and preserving Nature’s interconnections, we are able to gradually stop or slow down the destructive nature of the Anthropocene.
It is important to note that mankind cannot create resilience in Nature. Resilience is a mechanism within Nature. Our role as humans is to facilitate resilience by identifying, restoring, and protecting the connections in Nature where resilience takes place. One needs both a consciousness of Nature and knowledge to effectively carry out the conservation tasks of identification, restoration, and protection. The tool for acquiring this knowledge and consciousness is environmental education. In the rest of this post, we will examine environmental education as a force that promotes social change, helps overcome the destructive political will of special interest groups, and provides a long term strategy for human population control.
It is my view that any environmental consciousness within the great majority of the adult human population is lost. A relative minority of adults are stewards of Nature. Educators, conservationists, and scientists do not have the power to stop the steamroller created by the current adult generations. The best conservation strategy is not in police power to enforce conservation regulations. One only has to look at the lost war on drugs to see how ineffective a strategy of using police force can be. The best conservation strategy is educating people. Conservation enforcement through education. Our hope as a race rests with those adults who are willing and able to reach and influence our younger generation with a message that includes the importance of understanding and conserving connections in Nature. Carlo Martini R. Echiverri, an award winning environmental educator, says:
“For me, education is one of the main pillars of solving environmental pollution. The more students become aware, the easier it will be for us to fix these environmental problems. They will be the ones who making the decisions and doing the work. And they will be the main consumers of the future.”
I have great hope for the idea of conservation through education because I have seen some positive results. One awesome and inspiring example is the work of Deb Perryman who is an environmental educator in Elgin, Illinois. Deb has won some prestigious awards for her effort. Her results speak for themselves as you can see by viewing this PBS video entitled “Edens Lost and Found” . With environmental education teachers like Deb Perryman working with our youth, I believe that we will gradually see significant and positive changes in human attitudes that have been historically destructive to our environment. Environmental education is a powerful force in building a new Nature consciousness in our youth.
Environmental education, coupled with teamwork and cooperative efforts, is a powerful tool in conquering misplaced political and social will. Political will is the cancer that is preventing forward progress in the restoration of Nature. My knowledge is with the agriculture industry and many of those who work within government organizations such as the US Forest Service (USFS) and the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The most prominent examples of poor conservation because of misguided political will are in cattle grazing and in the eradication of top predators like the gray wolf.
There is a growing amount of evidence that the cattle industry is environmentally destructive in many ways that range from excessive gas emission, to overgrazing, and to the inefficiencies of growing and employing animal feed. Gradually, I’m seeing more documentaries and writings on this subject. I share three such offerings with you below:
- A four minute video on the effects of meat eating on the environment
- A three minute video on the environmental impact of meat production
- Giving up meat will reduce our carbon footprint more than cars
There is a growing amount of information on health issues from eating meat. Indeed, beef consumption is becoming a public health issue. The agriculture industry has very close ties with high places in government where information is being suppressed or sound ecological practices are not being implemented.The line of communication from Washington DC to the field offices of the USFS and BLM is heavily biased to favor agricultural practices that lack any sound ecological basis. Many of the employees of the USFS and BLM were raised on farms and carry these heavy biases into their careers as civil servants. Good science is being ignored in favor of manufactured science that favors the farmer and rancher. Add to this the subsidies to the farmer and rancher that taxpayers fork out through the support of elected officials.
Along with the negative environmental impacts associated with using huge amounts of land and water to produce feed for beef, pork, and chicken, the cattle and sheep ranchers feel compelled to kill predators like wolves, bear, and cougar in order to protect their herds and flocks. This is despite proven techniques for non-lethal predator control. Add to this the USFS and other government agencies encouraging and licensing predator hunting which is the worst form of trophy hunting. I offer more on this subject in my blog post “The Wolf and the Elk“.
It has been shown that top predators are an important part of healthy and robust ecosystems . The “Lords of Nature” video is a wonderful description of the important ecological value of top predators. Unfortunately, the political will of many ranchers who strongly favor the killing of top predators is a powerful influence within government circles and has resulted in a negative impact on our ecosystems.
This, then, is a brief description of the powerful political will that is hurting our environment and contributing to the ecological destruction that I listed in the first blog post. However, through all of this, there are examples of successful ranching and farming operations that utilize sound ecological agriculture practices and non-lethal predator control. Typically these operations result from a team that consists of a cooperative rancher, a competent facilitator like the Nature Conservancy, and volunteers who help the rancher. What is behind this is good environmental education that is offered to a rancher where he/she is shown the economic and ecological benefits in making certain changes. The success seems to come from teams of competent facilitators. Where there are no good facilitators, the education process doesn’t materialize. As a result, we see success stories in certain geographic regions and total failures (with hostile ranchers) in other reasons. The important point is that environmental education can serve to convert negative political will into positive ecological practices which result in restoration.
A very unpopular subject in many circles is population control within the human race. We all want the liberty to make our own decisions about raising a family. But, the human population numbers noted in the first blog post are grim warnings of what will happen even under the best of environmental practices. You don’t need to be a mathematical wizard to see that a lack of birth control measures coupled with longer life spans of human beings simply accelerates the inevitable crowding of the planet and diminished food supplies.
However, a BBC article that reported on a National Academy of Sciences study says that that curbing human population numbers will not deal with environmental challenges in the short term. Prof Barry Brook from the University of Tasmania says:
“Our work reveals that effective family planning and reproduction education worldwide have great potential to constrain the size of the human population and alleviate pressure on resource availability over the longer term. Our great-great-great-great grandchildren might ultimately benefit from such planning, but people alive today will not. “Society’s efforts towards sustainability would be directed more productively towards reducing our impact as much as possible through technological and social innovation“
The study went on to suggest that, to curb human population in a shorter time frame, the world should focus on curbing consumption and designing ways to conserve species and ecosystems. This is a wonderful challenge for environmental educators.
Robert Engelman of World Watch offers nine steps that would all but guarantee declines in birthrates based on the intention of women around the world to have small families. He says:
“Unsustainable population growth can only be effectively and ethically addressed by empowering women to become pregnant only when they themselves choose to do so” .
Engelman’s offers nine strategies (paraphrased here) that could put human population on an environmentally sustainable path:
- Provide universal access to safe and effective contraceptive options for both sexes. With nearly two in five pregnancies reported as mistimed or never wanted, lack of access to good family planning services is among the biggest gaps in assuring that each baby will be wanted and welcomed in advance by its parents.
- Guarantee education through secondary school for all, especially girls. In every culture surveyed to date, women who have completed at least some secondary school have fewer children on average, and have children later in life, than do women who have less education.
- Eradicate gender bias from law, economic opportunity, health, and culture. Women who can own, inherit, and manage property; divorce; obtain credit; and participate in civic and political affairs on equal terms with men are more likely to postpone childbearing and to have fewer children compared to women who are deprived of these rights.
- Offer age-appropriate sexuality education for all students. Data from the United States indicate that exposure to comprehensive programs that detail puberty, intercourse, options of abstinence and birth control, and respecting the sexual rights and decisions of individuals, can help prevent unwanted pregnancies and hence reduce birth rates.
- End all policies that reward parents financially based on the number of children they have. Governments can preserve and even increase tax and other financial benefits aimed at helping parents by linking these not to the number of children they have, but to parenthood status itself.
- Integrate lessons on population, environment, and development into school curricula at multiple levels. Refraining from advocacy or propaganda, schools should educate students to make well-informed choices about the impacts of their behavior, including childbearing, on the environment.
- Put prices on environmental costs and impacts. In quantifying the cost of an additional family member by calculating taxes and increased food costs, couples may decide that the cost of having an additional child is too high, compared to the benefits of a smaller family that might receive government rebates and have a lower cost of living. Such decisions, freely made by women and couples, can decrease birth rates without any involvement by non-parents in reproduction.
- Adjust to an aging population instead of boosting childbearing through government incentives and programs. Population aging must be met with the needed societal adjustments, such as increased labor participation, rather than by offering incentives to women to have more children.
- Convince leaders to commit to stabilizing population growth through the exercise of human rights and human development. By educating themselves on rights-based population policies, policymakers can ethically and effectively address population-related challenges by empowering women to make their reproductive choices.
Engelman argues that with these strategies, global population likely would peak and subsequently begin a gradual decline before 2050, thereby ensuring sustainable development of natural resources and global stability into the future. By implementing policies that defend human rights, promote education, and reflect the true economic and environmental costs of childbearing, the world can halt population short of the 9 billion that so many analysts expect.
The discussions that I’ve presented in this blog post give me hope despite the dismal environmental news that I portrayed in the first blog post. That hope lies in a relatively small group of people in our sea of humanity. These folks are the environmental educators and facilitators who interface with our youth and with those adults who see the benefits of a healthy environment.
As I’ve studied both successful and unsuccessful conservation efforts, I find that many conservation projects have faltered or failed because three vitally important factors were missing. In the spirit of stimulating your thinking and providing you with an outline for success, I close this post by elaborating on these factors.
Good science is an absolutely essential foundation for any conservation project because it is the science that defines a conservation issue and provides the basis for a conservation goal. The goal of all worthwhile conservation projects is the preservation of Nature’s energy conduits. Good science defines these channels of energy flow. Good science is unbiased science conducted by neutral scientists. There is way too much bias in scientific investigation. The employment of “friendly” scientists by oil and agricultural interests is a common practice that is self-serving and dishonest. Even honest bias in a scientific investigation must be avoided. As I noted earlier, many honest folks who work for government conservation organizations were raised in agricultural communities and naturally favor the farmer and rancher when tough ecological decisions must be made. Peer-reviewed and transparent scrutiny is an essential part of good scientific practice that produces facts instead of biased speculation.
Strong community support provides both foundation and influence for any conservation effort. Without the community backing a conservation project, it will fail. Strong volunteer “friends” organizations are created out of community support. Out of these “friends” groups, conservation volunteers and docents (more environmental educators) emerge. The missing component in poor community support is usually inadequate community education. Community education , in turn, is tied to the generation of well researched scientific fact by respected individuals and the employment of skilled environmental educators who have the passion, experience, and knowledge to present information to a wide audience.
Skilled facilitation is the act of assisting and energizing a group or groups of people to determine and or achieve a particular task such as clearly identifying and solving a conservation issue together. Effective facilitation is about working with people, allowing participants to provide the content, and assisting individuals and groups to find results that are agreeable to most or all stakeholders. Facilitators should not be part of or associated with any of the stakeholders. Trained, skilled, and independent professional facilitators are available. Many times, facilitators are non-government organizations such as The Nature Conservancy who serve to bring parties together to develop a mutually agreeable conservation plan. This was the case with the successful non-lethal predator projects involving wolves in the mid-western United States. Here, the result was adversaries joining forces. Environmental groups became partners with ranchers in installing non-lethal predator control methods to achieve effective measures that preserved both the predators and the rancher’s livestock.
In contrast, the intensely adversarial and dysfunctional opposing positions of environmentalists and ranchers in the Western United States is present because skilled facilitators and great educators are absent. The same conservation problem is addressed differently in two separate settings. In one setting, there is failure. In another setting, there is success.
The reason I carry a thread of optimism for the future of humanity is that there are good solutions to the issues that I’ve listed. Some of these success stories are beginning to emerge from viable ecological restoration efforts and the activities of competent environmental educators on a large scale. These ideas will be advanced further in the next three blog posts where we will explore interconnected ecosystems. The next blog will look at interfaces between ecosystems. Interfaces like beaches and shorelines, mountains and deserts, land and sky. We will then take a look at mankind’s efforts to create biosphere reserves. Then, we will talk about wildlife corridors.
Stay with me as there is much more to come.
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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.