On Dec. 19, the governments of 196 countries agreed to set aside 30 percent of the earth for wildlife, to slash subsidies to harmful industries, and to cut food waste in half, all in an effort to halt and reverse the collapse of the earth’s biodiversity.
But science has shown that government efforts need individuals to help too.
“Sometimes it can feel like there’s doom and gloom with loss of biodiversity and things like climate change,” said Elise Zipkin, a Michigan State University ecologist who studies the decline in monarch butterflies, “but I actually think there’s a lot of amazing things that can be done.”
1 Become A Citizen Scientist
One of the most exciting, according to Zipkin, is the opportunity to contribute directly to conservation science. She recommends the website SciStarter.org, which lists hundreds of opportunities for people to help collect data for studies.
Zipkin’s team studied the decline of monarchs over a period of 30 years.
“It’s not like me, my lab group, or even teams of labs could work together and collect the 18,000 surveys that have been collected over 30 years,” she said, “so we’re relying more and more on citizens, on volunteers, to go out and collect the data, and those data are really really valuable.”
A quick search of the Chicago area produced citizen-science opportunities to observe dragonflies, butterflies, bees, redbud trees, beech bark, rare plants, streams, rivers, and invasive species, to name just a few.
Many observations can be reported on the iNaturalist app.
2 Eat More Plants
The United Nations emphasized food waste as a major goal because of the vast destruction wrought on the earth by agriculture. Almost 80 percent of agricultural land is devoted to feeding animals before slaughter. Most governments have shied away from trying to influence individual diets, fearing backlash, but individuals can take one of the most effective actions by changing to a plant-based diet.
“The environmental footprint of food – its associated land use, GHG emissions, water use and biodiversity impact – varies significantly from one product to the next,” according to the UN Environment Program. “In general, the largest differences occur between animal-sourced and plant-sourced foods, with the latter having smaller footprints; in some cases, substantially smaller.”
If the United States replaced just the beef in its diet with legumes—a far more efficient source of protein—it would free up 42 percent of U.S. cropland for wildland restoration, the UN says, and that’s not including pasture land. It would also reduce diet-related disease, pandemic risk, and greenhouse gas emissions.
3 Take Political Action
Not sure where to start? The Center for Biological Diversity lists 30 Actions right now that individuals can take to influence policies that impact biodiversity. In many cases people can take action without leaving that website. CBD provides the tools to contact the specific politicians and officials in the best position to influence policies that can preserve biodiversity. You can sign up for their eNetwork to receive new alerts as they are released.
“Use your mouse to save a grouse. Or a sea otter. Or a Mexican gray wolf,” CBD says. “You are the most powerful weapon we have in the fight to save endangered species. Here’s why: The fate of plants and animals threatened with extinction is largely determined by the government agencies that manage our public lands, and those agencies can be swayed by public opinion.”