First published in the August/September 2012 issue of North Simcoe Community News.

“The environment is everything that isn’t me” – Albert Eistein

If you look, you will find them everywhere. Scientists of the world are talking about the environment, but who is listening?

In early June, I came across two venues on biodiversity. The messages were hauntingly similar. Dr. Jeff Hutchins gave a fascinating and chilling lecture on the condition of Canada’s ocean biodiversity, as part of Lakehead University’s Summer of Sustainability (S.O.S.) series. The 2012 Muskoka Summit on Biodiversity Loss brought together eight prominent scientists and influential policy makers to discuss critical issues about biodiversity loss. The message: Our natural systems are in a critical state and we know enough to act responsibly now.

Canada has the largest area of ocean jurisdiction in the world (over 3 times the area as the USA and over 2.6 times the area as the EU) and our performance in protecting it has been dismal. The Canada’s Ocean Act of 1997 was a landmark piece of legislation, but it is not being implemented so our obligations remain unfulfilled. And as a signatory to the UN Fish Stock Agreement of 1995 we committed to apply the Precautionary Principle. In Canada, our fish stocks are 70% below the agreed upon target, while most other developed countries, including the USA, are close to their targets. Why aren’t we protecting the marine environment? We agreed to conserve 10% of our marine areas by 2020, but currently only 0.5% is protected (Aichi Biodiversity Target 2011). Clearly we are not going to do it.

At the Muskoka Summit, scientists argued that biodiversity is the most important issue for the long-term well being of humans. Biodiversity loss is a major driver of ecosystem change, rivaling the negative impacts of both pollution and climate change. (Biodiversity Loss and Its Impact on Humanity, Journal Nature, June 2012). To ensure the survival of healthy ecosystems on which we all depend, we need stronger local, national and international efforts to protect biodiversity. If we continue down our current path, though, we can expect half a million extinctions per decade by 2050.

Given current inaction, we can safely conclude that our policy makers are not listening. And they are doing their best to ensure that you are not listening either. Highly disturbing to me is the tight media protocol of the current federal government that prevents government scientists from talking to journalists, effectively muzzling them. But, as scientist Jeremy Kerr stated at the Muskoka Summit, “Ignoring real world trends will not cause real world trends to ignore you!”

If you have read this far, I assume that you are listening. That’s a good start. So, how can we marshal the political will, as well as the business drive, to address the increasingly desperate situation of biodiversity loss?

Firstly, we can recognize and help others to see that humans depend on biodiversity for many things, such as clean air and water, food and fiber, climate moderation and a healthy economy. Without rich and complex biodiversity, these ecosystem services would be extremely expensive or impossible to replace. To start a conversation with others about sustainability, Mike Nickerson, author of Life, Money and Illusion, suggests the use of sustainability cards (available at http://www.sustainwellbeing.net/seeds.html).

Secondly, we can publicly support the legitimacy of sustainability as a priority in decision-making. Currently, our short-term economic interests, themselves unsustainable in the long-term, trump any considerations about the health of our natural systems, regardless of the vital services they provide. Governments cannot act without the legitimacy we provide.

Thirdly, we can act locally to protect and restore natural biodiversity – invite nature into our lives. Biodiversity loss is, after all, a local issue.

Recently, I came across a wonderful little book published in 1893 called Lake Simcoe and Its Environs. In it, I learned that during the summer of 1890, a gravitation scheme was proposed to provide the city of Toronto with a daily supply of 125 million gallons of drinking water from Lake Simcoe via a tunnel. Advocates suggested the use of even more water for power generation. The idea had wide support. Thank goodness a wise scientist realized how unsustainable the plan was: the lake level would drop by one inch every 23½ days. Just think what could have happened if this scientist had not shared his foresight with an attentive audience.

Many of the economic schemes that we are being bombarded with now, from the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project in western Canada, to the Melancthon Mega-Quarry Project in Ontario will someday seem just as preposterous to future generations. Will we have the wisdom to protect what sustains us?  It all begins with a willingness to learn and to share. It all begins with you.

Advertisements