Human intervention has inflicted a great deal of harm to countless habitats throughout the planet, and while counts of individual species of plants and animals affected should be enough to warrant proper mediation and regulation of habitat-altering practices, it doesn't cut it. Why? Because an ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts! The delicate symbiosis between various species does more for the planet than any one species could achieve - even us.
Ever wonder who your neighbors would be if you packed up and moved to the rainforest? Well you’re in luck, because half of the world’s plant and animal species do!
The downside? You and all the species around you will be competing for smaller and smaller territory as resource extraction eats away at the jungle from within. In the amount of time you spent reading this up until now, over ten acres have been stripped from mother nature’s skin – so fast that each second, a plot the size of a soccer field is torn down every second! And to make things worse, one hectare of land contains more plant species than all of North America!
Yes these fabulous paradises are the celebrity getaways of a lifetime – but they’re also home to countless endemic species of plants and animals, as well as First Nations. Indeed, many island nations are cultures that have their roots ground deep in their islands’ soil. Unlike many other countries, island nations are in a unique position – they want to stimulate their economies through the selling of resources, but that only drives climate change faster. This of course isn’t a problem for the United States, but for countries like Fiji or Tonga, rising sea levels are of critical concern.
Pollution to their territory by tourists and extraction companies is detrimental to the environment. The delicate balance in which many island species live in symbiosis can be easily disturbed by these practices, which is a driving reason that many island species have gone extinct.
Coral Bleaching, or the process of corals dying out due to changes in their habitat, has been a widespread problem in the wake of accelerated global warming. Coral reefs are home to incredible numbers of fish and plant species – they’re the rainforests of the ocean! It’s easy to see why maintaining their health is so important. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef had already halved in size, and reefs in the Caribbean Sea are seeing devastating blows.
The resource extraction industries - logging, mining, fracking and natural gas, oil drilling - have huge impacts on their local environments. From CO2 emissions from machinery and equipment, to pollution of harmful, sometimes carcinogenic, chemicals, these practices destroy habitats. In the case of logging, the act itself is the destruction of the habitat, where the trees are stripped for miles around in about an hour. Coal mining can see the sides of entire mountains dug up. On top of impact on the extraction sites, there have to be roads made that can handle the heavy machinery, all of which wind through the jungle like a venomous serpent sinking its fangs into the planet's lungs.
Though renewables are a long way away from providing all of our energy needs, we still have some hope for reducing our carbon footprint: Environmental Impact Assessments. These assessments can be used to determine the extent and the variety of the effects on which a particular operation has on its surrounding locale, and certain companies use these as guides to lessen impact through evaluations on reductions vs price. We can support companies like these, but we shouldn't stop there! We can write to the heads of many companies who disregard Environmental Impact as just a hefty fine they pay annually, and when that doesn't work we can write to their largest shareholders! There are options, there is a framework - and until we develop better alternatives (more efficient and widespread renewables) this is what we can do!
What if I offered you a free ticket to a private island like none you could even imagine? You'd be pretty ecstatic, right? Well imagine the look on your face when you step foot on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. While it's not exactly an island, more of a dense collection of trash only estimated to be about the size of Texas, it is a testament to plastic pollution in the oceans. Plastics, which can take up to thousands of years to degrade, pose one of the greatest challenges for fish survival in the oceans - but no just fish, sea turtles, whales, sharks, and more!
Graphic images of sea turtles have been taken with six-pack rings stuck around their shells, or plastic straws stuck entirely up their nose - it's quite awful, really. Beach clean ups are a great way to take part in plastic removal from our oceans, but beyond that writing to local government to place recycling bins at beach locations is a great step that anyone can take!
Ecosystems are vital to our prosperity, affording us with clean air, fresh water, food, and opportunities for research and recreation! They work like complex machines – small breaks in minor parts can ruin the entire process – and that’s why it’s critically important to ensure that every aspect of an ecosystem is preserved during human intervention as best we can! The functions of an ecosystem that enhance our well-being are Ecosystem Services, and it’s within this framework that new initiatives in the EU – that could potentially benefit the world over through international implementation - are seeking to use as the basis for a new level of socially-aware climate protocols through the inclusion of Ecosystem services in policy measures affecting the use of natural resources.