Climate change is real. It is the most urgent threat affecting our species. We need to work together and stop procrastinating.
(Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar winner for best actor, The Revenant, 2016)
Indians and wolves are both beasts of prey, though they differ in shape.
To the Great Plains Indians, nature was the center of our way of life. To whites, nature was the enemy to be conquered.
(Dr. Leo Killsback, citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation)
It ultimately matters a hell of a lot, regardless of whether or not you live in Ferguson, Missouri, rural Idaho or along the Connecticut “gold coast.” They're all connected even if for some it's difficult to grasp that connection. Of course, you don't have to frame it in terms of morality, stewardship of the Earth or the sacredness of all life on the planet, if you're uncomfortable or contemptuous with those terms.
One of the really good post-apocalyptic nightmares is The Road, a novel by Cormac McCarthy. We never really learn how it happened, how it all became the planet of the damned. If you are now of a certain age you will likely pass away remembering blue skies, chirping birds and the possibility of a living future. Your children, on the other hand, could start seeing both small and large occurrences. Now your grandchildren, well, do we really care about them? After all, we're dead.
The short explanation
A. A large number of countries in the world today have “protected areas.” The number of reserves on land amount to approximately 161,000. The number over marine waters globally is around 6,500. In 2015 this represented 15% of the Earth's land area and 2.8% of the planet's ocean area. Is this enough?
Edward O. Wilson, the renown biologist, believes it doesn't come close to being enough. In fact, he thinks one-half of the Earth's surface must be devoted to nature in order to save the life forms that compose it. One of the life forms is us. No it doesn't mean that one-half of Earth is to become a global sanctuary devoid of humans but it does mean that we must learn how to reduce our ecological footprint. Wilson thinks it is possible and believes it is through biology, nanotechnology and robotics that we can learn how.
Large plots of land connected to smaller plots contain more eco-systems and maintain them at sustainable levels. Smaller reserves reduce our diversity and thus our existence. Edward Wilson thinks there are still choices that we can make, but the crucial factor in the life and death of all species is the amount of habitable land we can maintain.
B. Although many still refuse to admit it, more and more of us now understand that we cannot take more out of the eco-system than we put in. The good news is that we're now beginning to be able to put a direct cash value on what has been called “natural capital,” that is what humans do not have to spend on services that nature supplies for free, such as water purification, crop pollination, coastal protection by wetlands, sand banks and reefs and groundwater.
We've heard, for example, about the importance of the honeybee, which in fact generates some $57 billion dollars annually in revenue. But few people probably know that the dung beetle generates some $380 million annually by getting rid of manure that would attract parasites.
The Ogallala Aquifer located in the Great Plains, covering some 8 states, is one of the largest aquifers in the world. Suffice it to say that groundwater depletion is occurring at faster rates and replenishment rates are relatively slow. In fact, the Ogallala provides freshwater for about one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cattle and cotton in the U.S. as well as across the globe.
Scientists can demonstrate that this aquifer could run dry as soon as 2040 if we don't make necessary changes … and we do know right now how to make a lot of these changes. If we wanted to keep the aquifer from going dry beyond 2070, we would have to initiate drastic changes, like a steep reduction in corn and cattle production—heavy users of water. Oh yes, the political decisions can be put off only so long.
C. What has been referred to as “Big Data” has helped us to measure Natural Capital. Computers have accelerated our ability to take action. We are able to measure and quantify huge amounts of data, discover patterns and understand how we humans are participants in a larger system. Yes, marketing people can learn what color boxes toothpaste users like best, but we are now able to decipher really important things that could help our planet survive.