With almost a third of arable land classified as degraded, what can we do to reverse the rapid pace of degradation and can we do it in a way that benefits us?
Does this species look familiar to you? This is Homo sapiens, this is us.
For most of our history we have been hunters and gatherers. Low in number, with rudimentary technology and very limited impact on our environment.
Forests were largely intact, water was clean and the air was pure. If we had the chance to go back in time and observe our planet from space it would be virtually impossible to even notice our presence on the globe.
However, things have recently taken a very different turn.
Countless breakthroughs in technology, medicine and agricultural practices have radically changed the influence that we, as a species, are having on our planet.
In only a few thousand years our population has exploded and so has our impact.
Today, when observing our planet from space, a very different picture appears. Enormous areas that used to be covered by uninterrupted forests are now occupied by farms, pastures or megacities.
Much of the earth is now overexploited and degraded by unsustainable management.
In fact, approximately a third of the world’s ecosystems are now, in some way, degraded.
To put this in perspective, if we were to combine the most degraded areas into one geopolitical boundary, it would form a country larger than Russia.
This country, which we could call “The Federated States of Degradia”, would be inhabited by 3 billion of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
So what should we do about Degradia? Can we halt its ever-expanding borders?
Should we let it become almost uninhabitable for human beings? Why are we even thinking of terraforming Mars when our priorities should be here.
Planting trees is a tried and tested way of restoring degraded lands and the good news is that there are now ambitious restoration agreements in place.
The Bonn Challenge has set a global goal of 350 million ha to restore by 2030, and 107 million ha have been committed already.
But these goals, whilst impressive, will still only address a fraction of the world’s degraded areas and a lot more work remains to be done.
Let’s be honest, restoring the planet to the ‘Garden of Eden’ it was thousands of years ago, simply isn’t an option, the reality is billions of people are sharing this earth. We need pragmatic innovation to restore Degradia.
As individuals we can all help by participating in tree planting schemes and, ticking that box to offset carbon emissions from your international air travel!
However, if we focus on monoculture plantings for carbon benefits this misses opportunities to restore a broader spectrum of biodiversity and fails to harness a wider range of natures benefits, known as ecosystem services.
Science now allows us to engineer our landscapes through plantings that provide ecosystem services that purify air and water, rebuild soil fertility, pollinate crops, control soil erosion, sequester carbon and even improve human health.
Investing in evidence-based restoration approaches allows us to terraform degraded landscapes…here on this planet. Such investment has clear economic and social returns, above and beyond the initial outlay.
Imagine mitigating climate change, saving our threatened species and improving the health of communities all at the same time. Terraforming ecosystems is a smart way of realizing multiple benefits for people, businesses and the planet. We need to be bold enough to pull the inhabitants of Degradia out of environmental poverty.
So what next?
- We can link you up with community projects or provide information for you to terraform your own backyard;
- We can work with your business to design plantings that realize multiple benefits for urban developments and rural communities;
- Or perhaps you wish to work with us to develop the cutting-edge science to underpin these programs.
But whatever you do, join us in helping to restore Degradia.
This blog is based on a recently published paper found here