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According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the expansion of human population and consumption has increased species extinction by more than 1,000 times the natural rate. 

This is a conservative estimate because of the large numbers of species still unknown to science, and there are uncertainties in predicting future extinctions given increased habitat destruction and the spread of invasive species and diseases.

The findings of the study revealed that the extinction rate could have been 20% higher were it not for active conservation efforts.

The Effects of Human Expansion

Human expansion has always affected the environment– animals have been hunted and domesticated and plants used and eaten since the beginning of humanity. The rate of species extinction is bound to rise continuously as population and human consumption grows; the UN expects that the world population will increase by 2 billion people within 30 years. Concerns have been raised for decades about whether global food production can keep up, and global waste is set to triple by 2100. 

A report by the WWF says that the main drivers of biodiversity loss include the overexploitation of species, agriculture and land conversion. The report adds that wildlife populations have suffered a 60% drop in just over 40 years, driven by the rapid increase in human consumption and demand for energy, land and water. 

The least developed countries have suffered the greatest land degradation, and it is these countries who depend on their natural resources the most. The disappearance of varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals make agroecosystems less resilient against the climate crisis and agricultural pests.

In the last 25 years, the risk of species extinction has worsened by almost 10%. At present, one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction; biodiversity is declining faster than ever before in the history of humanity. 

Humans have altered 75% of the Earth’s land surface and 66% of its oceans. The welfare of humans is reliant on the survival of other species as biodiversity loss affects global food security, clean water and other vital natural services, like pollination.

A study that discusses how human expansion has impacted Earth’s biomass distribution shows a rapid increase in domesticated livestock biomass, affected by humans’ dietary choices. 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock while 70% of all birds are domesticated poultry. Global biomass of marine mammals has decreased fivefold due to whaling and exploitation and the total plant biomass has decreased almost twofold since before human civilisation.

Some experts believe that we are now living in the ‘Anthropocene’ epoch, arguing that the Holocene is outdated. This new era is characterised by human beings being the driving force behind ecological change, as opposed to something like an asteroid impact.

A panel of scientists voted in May 2019 to designate this new epoch to mark the profound ways in which humans have altered the planet. The decision, by the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), marks a step towards formally defining a new point in the geologic record. The group agreed that the Anthropocene started in the mid-20th century when a rapidly rising human population accelerated the pace of industrial production and the use of agricultural chemicals.

In 2021, a formal proposal will be submitted to the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), the scientific body concerned with global geological and geochronological matters, after which the executive committee of the International Union of Geological Sciences will formally declare the new geological epoch.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services reports that the global goals of conservation and sustainability cannot be met at the current rate and may only be achieved ‘through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors’. Changes like reducing food waste, strengthening the enforcement of environmental laws, and increasing farming productivity without using more land will help make the Earth more sustainable. 

International Cooperation

There are already existing key international frameworks that target enhanced biodiversity such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. Collectively, these frameworks emphasise the need to ensure that both nature and humans thrive, but not at the expense of the other’s decline. Aside from global visions, national and local initiatives to protect biodiversity also exist, like Ireland’s National Biodiversity Action Plan and Japan’s National Biodiversity Strategy. These national initiatives address the current global biodiversity situation and acknowledge how their countries play a role.

However, Sandra M. Díaz, an ecologist from the National University of Córdoba in Argentina, says that environmental policies are not enough. She says that biodiversity considerations must always be at the forefront of concerns in any trade and infrastructure decision-making.

These programs and proposals must go beyond global projections and scenarios to reverse biodiversity decline. According to the Living Planet Report 2018, conservation efforts such as protected areas are still vital, but actions must be taken to address the causes of species extinction. Concrete measures to accomplish the global goals must  accommodate the needs of the growing population while taking into account the effects of the climate crisis.

Featured image by: Flickr

For the nearly 850 million citizens who live in Chinese cities, physical and mental health issues are the lived reality as a result of the country’s rampant industrialisation. Environmental degradation is nearing a tipping point, but new urban greening measures, including green spaces, could be a solution to these problems faced by urban residents in China and all over the world.

Economic advancements and growth-orientated policies over the past 30 years have been a major cause of localised severe smog and poor air quality in China’s cities, which have a knock-on effect on regional and global air quality. In its quest to improve China’s standing as the world’s current largest net emitter of CO2, the National People’s Congress has made fighting pollution one of the ‘three critical battles’ faced by the country for the coming years. The territory has begun developing and implementing urban greening measures and green spaces in congested and densely populated towns and cities as a means of achieving this goal.  

Some of these measures include new green spaces, urban parks for residents and ecological corridors (pathways allowing biodiversity to travel between habitat areas that have been separated by buildings or human activities). Many cities, including Zhuji in China, as well as Hong Kong, have applied the tenets of the Chinese tradition, feng shui when implementing urban greening policies to promote wellbeing. 

You might also like: Could Biofuels Do More Harm Than Good?

Enhancing urban green space is a policy focus and priority for cities globally- not just in China- following the development of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 (especially Goal 11: Urban Sustainability).

Why are green spaces important?

Among other benefits, the creation of these green spaces improves air quality, reduces and regulates rainfall run-off, and reduces both the urban heat-island effect and severe localised weather events. Additionally, they protect and improve the health of the ecosystem and biodiversity of the surrounding areas. For the inhabitants of these urban societies, green spaces help to reduce the rate of respiratory illnesses, improve the physical health of those who engage in activities afforded by these spaces, improve psychological health and reduce health complications such as cancer and dementia. In many studies around the world it has been observed that an increase in ‘contact with nature’, facilitated through the implementation of green spaces, creates a greater propensity to care for the natural world and develops better environmental attitudes. 

Ways to Increase Green Spaces in Cities

In Shanghai, for example, the government imposed a Vision of 2035 in 2017 to make the city an innovative eco-friendly metropolis to bring its urban residents closer to nature. Here, 3% of Shanghai’s total yearly provincial economic output is invested in urban ecological development; the projects under which include low carbon developments, urban parks systems and ecosystem protection mechanisms.

Some provincial governments and urban developers have taken the implementation of urban green spaces a step further, through the creation of  ‘garden cities.’ While the sustainability of the construction of these ‘eco metropolises’ is questionable, the environmental and public health benefits these cities bring are important considerations for the sustainability of rapidly-increasing urban populations.

China’s environmental issues will take much longer to resolve than realised. Urban greening measures are a powerful solution for tackling environmental damage, as well as improving the lives of citizens and creating pro-environment attitudes and values. 

Using this example of China’s progress in urban green initiatives and implementing it around the world, where half of the population now lives in urban areas, the process of integrating nature into daily urban lives is a vital tool that can mitigate the climate crisis. However, while these measures can be successful when implemented and maintained properly, this is just one solution of many to help abate the climate crisis faced by humanity and the rest of the natural world.

 

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