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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

Half for you, half for me. That’s a fair division of goods. Do the same with nature and you’ve framed a philosophy that grants nature an equal role with humans. Should humans be fair with nature? Our collective future depends upon it.

The Wild Foundation, a nonprofit based in Boulder, recently initiated the “Nature Needs Half” campaign as part of its conservation strategy. This long-term effort undertakes conservation of wild lands with the goal of achieving ecological health, sustainability, and a moral relationship with the natural world.

Wild explains that the stakes are very high: “The escalating global ecological crisis – characterized by loss of natural habitat and ecosystem services, increasing species extinctions, and rapid warming of the planet – has demonstrated that conservation efforts to date have not been sufficient to sustain life on earth.”

This is not a widely accepted notion. Powerful and influential forces in government and business deny it vehemently because it impugns our business-as-usual complacency. Nature is still widely viewed as a conquered and subjugated foe from which we recklessly extract wealth.

This ongoing eco-Armageddon is not mere conjecture; it’s scientific fact. Species are in decline and habitat is shrinking. This reduction of biodiversity undermines the biological health of the living Earth.

Biologist and author E.O. Wilson, in his book, “The Future of Life,” opines that wild nature is not a mere luxury for recreationalists; it is an essential fount of life, genetic diversity, and species vitality. This is what Thoreau had in mind when he wrote: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

Wilson concludes that a critical mass of wild lands is necessary to renew the wellspring of life, and that the connectivity of wild lands is essential for that purpose. Today, he warns, only 10 percent of the land surface is protected with conservation designations.

“Eventually, and the sooner the better,” writes he, “a higher goal can and should be set. At the risk of being called an extremist, which on this topic I freely admit I am, let me suggest 50 percent. Half the world for humanity, half for the rest of life, to create a planet both self-sustaining and pleasant.”

Harvey Locke, a Canadian naturalist and conservation powerhouse, has worked with the Wild team to put Wilson’s goal into action by forging the “Nature Needs Half” campaign. Locke, the Vice President for Conservation Strategy for the Wild Foundation, is one of the most persuasive conservationists in the world today because his power flows from his deep passion.

Locke was instrumental in a major Boreal Forest conservation campaign in Canada that, in 2007, mobilized 1,500 scientists who urged Canada’s federal and provincial governments to protect half of Canada’s vast, interconnected boreal forest. The program is experiencing success. Earlier this year, Quebec committed to protecting 50 percent of its northern area – 193,000 square miles, or 123 million acres – from all industrial activity for the benefit of nature and traditional aboriginal activities, such as subsistence hunting.

“We need to protect at least half the world to protect the natural processes on which all life depends, including our own,” emphasizes Locke. “We are in the middle of a species extinction crisis, we are emptying the ocean of large fish, and we are radically changing our climate. We must do better than this, and Quebec is showing the way.”

In the Western U.S., where large tracts of public lands are abundant, nature seems predominant. Weigh these lands against the overdeveloped Midwest and East, however, and the balance is askew. This is especially true for diverse ecosystems, entire regions of which have been obliterated or fragmented.

The Wild Foundation urges that keeping nature whole is a human imperative. Only then can nature “maintain its full range of life-supporting, ecological and evolutionary processes, the long term survival of the species that live there, and ensure the system’s resilience in the face of environmental change.”

Wild proposes that a first step in the “Nature Needs Half” campaign “is to move urgently to protect at least half of the planet’s remaining large, mostly intact wilderness areas,” i.e. the Boreal Forests, the Amazon Basin, and Antarctica. Other important conservation targets include what E.O. Wilson calls “biodiversity hotspots” – rain forests of great fecundity where species abound.

“This rapid action,” says Wild, “is essential to respond to the global warming and extinction crises. The goal of achieving the target requires long term strategies with restoration efforts, and with many national/regional milestones along the way.”

Half for nature is reasonable. It’s fair. It’s smart. It’s appropriately humbling. Half for nature is a gift we need to give to our planet and to our children.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.


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