Human activity puts 1 million species of plants and animals at risk of extinction, a startling report from the United Nations showed recently. It's a sobering warning — but if we rethink conservation, such destruction doesn't have to be our future.
Healthy ecosystems are essential for the well-being of both wildlife and people, which is why a House panel summoned three of the U.N. report's key authors this month to brief Congressional lawmakers about their findings.
Reversing the extinction won't be easy, but we can preserve biodiversity and maintain resilient ecosystems in the face of a changing climate and growing population. Doing so is critical for supporting human health and prosperity going forward.
1. Farms can give species a climate lifeline
Cropland, pastures and rangeland account for more than half of the land area in the United States and globally. These working lands are where wildlife is most threatened, but also where we can make the biggest advances in restoring habitat.
Protected lands are important for conservation, but islands of biodiversity aren't sufficient for the realities of the 21st century. We need to restore habitat at scale so that animals can move with shifting climate patterns.
Working lands can provide invaluable breeding grounds and migratory corridors for threatened species like the monarch butterfly.
It will require creative thinking and an open mind to unexpected conservation partnerships and approaches. Farmers are essential allies in the fight against extinction and can't be expected to bear all of the costs.
Policymakers, businesses and conservationists must collaborate with them to find innovative ways to increase funding for proactive conservation of key ecosystems, and to protect bedrock conservation principles.
2. Fisheries can help halt 33% ocean decline
The U.N. report's analysis of global marine ecosystems is alarming: One-third of fisheries are already overfished, and more than 33% of marine mammal species are threatened with extinction.
But the researchers also stressed that by implementing fishery reforms, we can boost sustainable seafood production, while replenishing food supplies on which these vulnerable mammals depend for their survival. Science shows that such reforms work.
By moving faster to change how fisheries operate — and by pulling out all stops to try to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius — the ocean can produce nearly one-third more fish by 2100, allowing struggling fishing communities to prosper and threatened species to recover.
3. Curbing methane pollution can slow extinction
Adding to the plight of Earth's species are the rising impacts from rising global temperatures. Climate change is a "direct driver" speeding up the depletion of species, the U.N. reported.
About half the world's live cover on coral reefs has been lost since the 1870s, for example, with accelerating losses in recent decades as a warming ocean exacerbated other threats to corals. Today, 47% of threatened mammals such as bats have already seen population declines due to climate change.
The good news is that that just by catching methane leaks from oil and gas facilities, we can make a significant dent in greenhouse gas emissions. Methane pollution from all human activities is responsible for nearly 30% of the warming our planet is experiencing today — of which oil and gas accounts for nearly one-third.
By curbing methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, and by taking steps to rein in other forms of emissions, we can avert even more catastrophic climate impacts, and buy time for solutions that will allow more resilient land and marine ecosystems to flourish.
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