The first-ever Earthshot Prize, five awards created by Prince William, recognises and champions solutions and innovations helping solve and alleviate the challenges our planet faces. Five winners were announced on October 17, selected from over 200 nominators, varying from businesses to governments, grassroots initiatives and more for the chance of £1 million to scale their solutions. Earthshot challenges are split into five categories: protect and restore nature, clean our air, revive our oceans, build a waste-free world and fix our climate. To provide a better understanding on the critical environmental issues, the five-part documentary series titled The Earthshot Prize: Repairing Our Planet, narrated by renowned natural historian David Attenbourgh, explores the simple and ambitious solutions in solving the climate crisis, some of which Earth.Org has covered previously. Here are some of the key takeaways and climate solutions from The Earthshot Prize: Repairing Our Planet.
The Earthshot Prize: Repairing Our Planet: Protect and Restore Nature
“We need to work with nature, not against it.” This is a key message that Sir David Attenbourgh stresses throughout the episode. “A less wild world is a less stable world” and one that is unable to support our species.
Nature and the Earth’s biodiversity provides a wealth of services to the people on the planet for free, from the oxygen that we breathe, to carbon sinks that can absorb large amounts of greenhouse gases, to pollinating food crops and providing food security all around the world. However due to large-scale and widespread human activities, as well as worsening effects of climate change, these services are hugely under threat.
Deforestation is arguably the biggest threat to biodiversity right now. One of the most glaring examples of deforestation can be found in Borneo, home to one of the oldest and important rainforests in the world. It’s also known to support one of the few remaining habitats of wildlife species including the critically endangered orangutan. However due growing palm oil plantations and industries, Borneo has lost more than 30% of its native forest cover and nearly 80% of the organtugan populations within the last 50 years. The palm oil industry has also led to the rise of monoculture foresting, planting the same single plant species across the land, which increases the risks of soil erosion while reducing nutrient content.
One solution currently in the works is by planting oil palm trees on existing or former farmlands, and is essentially “deforestation free”. This method is estimated to reduce 99.7% of carbon emissions compared to when rainforests are converted. Building more forest corridors can also allow for the safe passage for wildlife within the rainforest.
Another rich biodiverse ecosystem currently under threat is the Mekong River, which runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The river features 18,000 flooded forests and supports millions of fish nurseries. Home to the largest inland fishing in the world, Mekong also supports the livelihoods of millions in these coastal communities. But hydropower dams, which is a positive renewable energy source on its own, have been built across China, forming a barrier for migrating fish and preventing populations from spawning. This in turn, places significant stress on the fishing industry to the point of collapse.
The reality is clear: “The natural world is in crisis because of us”. Since 1970, population decline on average has gone down by 60%, and we’re at the brink of a sixth mass extinction. But we have the power to change the situation, and improvements can be made rapidly.
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Take the Yellowstone National Park in the US for instance. In 1926, grey wolf populations were completely wiped out. With the loss of a major predator of the food chain, elk populations in Yellowstone soared, which reduced food and plant species, and disrupted the entire ecosystem. About 25 years ago, grey wolves were reintroduced to the area, helping re-stabilised elk populations. As a result, many other species returned to Yellowstone and species became more resilient.
It’s possible to correct our mistakes and Yellowstone demonstrates how quickly we can reverse these biodiversity threats.
One source of food however, has created more damage to biodiversity than any other: meat. Commercial and agricultural farming is the biggest contributor of deforestation and land use, and requires significant amounts of water to maintain. We can restore land and subsequently biodiversity, by changing how we farm and eat.
One such way is the efficient use of space. A farm in the Netherlands utilises only 130 hectares of land to produce 30 million lettuce heads a year. This food production has become one of the biggest exporters of food in the country, and is completely sustainable throughout the chain of production, from biodegradable pots, to water derived 100% captured from rain, to LED light bulbs that allow faster growth during winters.
Tissue engineering is another solution in solving our global meat problem. Using tissue from cattle, cultured meat can be produced without any animals being killed for it. While this option requires a steep price as it’s still in its infancy, it will become a lot cheaper as it becomes more commercialised, much like plant-based meat did.
No single solution can solve the climate crisis, but rather each land requires a tailored approach. But if we choose the next 10 years perfecting these methods, we are able to restore much of our natural world. We need to learn how to make land generate more income, and to incentivise land owners and stakeholders to protect rather than damage the environment.
Earthshot Prize Nominees for Protect and Restore Nature
- Pole Pole Foundation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The NGO introduced a plant-based protein, a blue-green algae called spirulina, to local communities to rescue illegal gorilla poaching and solve hunger at the same time.
- The Republic of Costa Rica. A restoration ecological project where the government pays locals for services to protect natural rainforests.
- Restor. Essentially a Google maps for nature, the digital platform empowers local conservation projects by indicating where people can rewild terrestrial land.
Featured image by: © Erica Wilson/Silverback Films/BBC