The Issue Hiding in the Shadow of Climate Change
Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. We are experiencing a significant global ecological event. The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging all of us, mentally and/or physically. In our general state of quarantine, if we have our health, there are things we can do in honor of Earth Day, and we can carry those actions forward to make every day Earth Day.
There are many significant issues facing all species on earth, and perhaps the one with the most awareness and widespread exposure at present is accelerated climate change. We must rely on strong up-to-date science and quality education to ensure we are tackling that issue now and for generations to come. It will be a war. It has major implications for the survival of species, and the quality of life for those species that survive the changes.
While climate change will continue to be an important issue to address, there is another issue that has existed for millennia, and continues to persist as the primary problem for the survival of species now: Habitat Destruction.
The two issues, climate change and habitat loss, are not mutually exclusive. They are closely related to one another in a variety of ways. For example, both are tied to human population growth and behavior. However, they are also very different issues. For example, climate change is something we know exists, but can’t quite see because many of its devastating impacts will be realized incrementally over great spans of time. But the reality of habitat loss and its impacts is that it is horribly tangible, today, right in your backyard, along all the roads and paths you traverse, in forests, fields, at farms, in towns, cities, and indeed on all modern human modified land.
Habitat loss and degradation, despite being the primary reason for the unprecedented loss of plant and animal species in North America over the past 400 years, takes the back seat to climate change in the current global conversation on the environment. We have taken natural habitat away from the landscape, and most of the plants and animals that evolved to become reliant upon the integrity of the ecology in those landscapes are struggling. But regardless of the political view or levels of relative ignorance or wisdom, we have all become participants in suppressing natural landscapes and the species they support. We’ve either lost the interest, desire, or knowledge for how to “listen” to what landscapes need to reach their natural biological potential. While scientists, naturalists, politicians, and the media will continue to draw most of the attention to the impending impacts of climate change (and rightly so), the amount of attention given that subject causes people to continue to turn a blind eye to what may be the biggest current actionable environmental issue. Habitat loss is eclipsed by it, and its impact is underestimated and not part of the cultural dialogue. It’s the elephant in the yard, if you will. Habitat loss and suppression is everywhere, and we choose to ignore it. Some even go so far as to continue behaviors that cause or sustain habitat loss on one hand, while passionately battling for climate change action on the other. We must do both. We must battle habitat loss, and take responsibility for stewardship on the landscapes we interact with. And, we must also take responsibility for learning about the impacts of climate change and how we may make changes in day to day life. Focusing on one and not the other will continue to lead to significant irreversible problems for biodiversity.
On this Earth Day, 2020, I urge you to pull the issue of “habitat loss” out of the socio-political shadow of “climate change”, and take action. With habitat restoration you can have a measurable collective impact right now, today, this week, this year. Steward a portion of your landscape so that it can support the wild and beautiful biodiversity it remembers. Convert your sterile and lifeless lawn into a celebration of your region’s natural heritage. Restore natural plant communities there and watch it support the wildlife you didn’t know existed. Make it a wondrous place to explore and share with others!
Executive Director, Center for Urban Habitats