The Federated States of Degradia​

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

Erin Simple Shapes Degradia Infographic 4
Visual abstract for paper

14 thoughts on “The Federated States of Degradia​

Add yours

  1. An engaging and informative presentation, lots of excellent suggestions. No mention of overpopulation though. Must we hope for the catastrophic effects of a changing climate to reduce human numbers to a manageable size?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thx Rigby, yes growing population size and increasing habitat clearance are the main drivers of environmental problems
      Intensification of food production and moving more towards plant based diet are only ways forward really

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for responding. As you are a scientist, I’m sure your methodology has been correct when determining the problem and hypothesising a solution. However, I suggest that by ignoring data regarding population overload, your elegant solution will fail the long-term testing phase because of the apparent assumption that a finite planet has an infinite capacity to support an ever increasing population of the animals that created the problem in the first place.
        This seems as irrational as the monetary theory of an ever expanding economy in a finite market.
        If the people entrusted with finding solutions to the problem of human survival refuse to include the primary cause of the problem in their solutions, what chance is there of reaching a solution that will ensure survival?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Rigby
        I dont deny the problem of incressing population size, I just dont condone genocide as a solution. However Id agree we can do much more in terms of contraception, womens education that can help control populations growth for the future. The long term development path of nations is to control population size, its jsut difficult if this stabilising at 10 billion or so. However there is alot we can do with being more efficent wiht​ our current resources that will allow no more habtiat​ to be cleared and even new areas ot be planted, these are reducing fodo​ waste, wee can currenyl​ feed an extra 3 billion people globally wih​t the food we waste. Also if we all became vegetarian we would reduce the land used for food production by 80%.
        A sustainble​ way forward is about the choices we all make

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Hi, again Andrew,
        I understand fully your arguments, and, were they ever to materialise, I would applaud the application of all your recommendations to mitigate our effect on the planet. My despair springs from the absence of overpopulation from lists of problems facing humanity in most of the proposed solutions to the current world crisis of water and land wars, increasing wealth gap, ungovernable cities, scarcity of resources, increasing disease, depression…. the list is long.
        We should take our lead from Cicero who ended every speech to the Senate with the words, “And Carthage must be destroyed.” Eventually it was. Every academic paper on solutions for planetary woes should stress the overwhelming problem of population or it will remain a forbidden topic and nothing will be done to curb it. A discussion today on ABC on population referred only to immigration and the absence of infrastructure and jobs – not to the real problem of living in a planet with already at least six billion too many people for sustainability of the current way of life. If we look at political inaction to halt global warming, which has been seen by scientists as a problem for over a century – we realise there’s zero chance that any of the excellent ideas you propose to limit human devastation will ever be enacted.
        I do not expect a response, but do enjoy your idiosyncratic spelling.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. the human population growth problem has long been recognised as an issue
        It was originally brought to public attention by Malthus in the 1800s and has been debated vigorously since then. More recently Paul Ehrlich recontextualised the debate in the population bomb in 1968
        Certainly outside of Australia it is a serious topic for debate and action
        Climate change has probably only been recognised as a problem over the last 40 years
        Pollution (including acid rain) has been recognised as a problem for longer
        Happy to debate the issues, but let’s get some of the key facts right
        interesting spelling due to writing on the move on phone

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I agree — get the facts right — and include all relevant facts.
        122 years ago in 1896, Arrhenius observed human induced global warming and calculated that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 would give a total warming of 5–6 degrees Celsius.
        Sunspot theory interfered with acceptance
        In 1938 Callendarr presented evidence that both temperature and the CO2 level in the atmosphere had been rising over the past half-century — most scientific opinion continued to dispute or ignore the theory.
        In 1965, the landmark report, “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment” by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee warned that an increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide could act, much like the glass in a greenhouse, to raise the temperature of the lower air
        In 1967, Manabe & Wetherald made the first detailed calculation of the greenhouse effect and found that a doubling of carbon dioxide from the current level would result in approximately 2 °C increase in global temperature.
        In 1968 Ehrlich wrote, “the greenhouse effect is being enhanced now by the greatly increased level of carbon dioxide… we cannot predict what the overall climatic results will be of our using the atmosphere as a garbage dump.”
        In 1969, NATO instigated international involvement and concern
        So your assertion that climate change has probably only been recognised as a problem over the last 40 years is strange.
        I have no interest in debating this issue – I agree with and applaud all your recommendations for sustainable living eating, food production…. The sole point of my comment was that we can never halt or even slow down climate change if the primary cause — overpopulation, is ignored.
        Malthus’s warnings were prescient — unfettered population growth has all but destroyed the natural world in which we evolved, and will probably lead to human extinction, along with that of millions of other species. Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 warnings have also been ignored — yet they have great relevance to Australia. The pollution you mentioned has been recognised as a problem since the beginning of the Industrial Age and is yet another topic in which the major contributors are ignored — global shipping and the world’s armies.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Rigby and Prof. Andy Lowe,

      I read your comments here with great interest, and agree that the ever-burgeoning population is the crux and bottleneck.

      Since the human species has not (always, adequately and/or consistently) been a good custodian of the environment and the Earth (not to mention countless wars, atrocities, resource depletions, species extinctions environmental degradations and so on, plus an area of rainforest as big as 100,000 football courts is being cleared or destroyed everyday), there is no assurance that once the human species migrates to another planet, the same problems would not again surface and plague us, perhaps at an even quickening and/or devastating pace as a result of better and greater expansion, production and technology. We would indeed export our baggage and problems to other worlds!

      A friend of mine wrote to me:

      I think if we went to Mars, we’d deal to it the same way we’re currently dealing to Earth. Richard Attenborough summed it up when he referred to us as the ‘scourge’ of the planet. Caused an outcry, but it seems to be true. Jared Diamond has published a good analysis of it, if a little deterministic for my liking. The reason would seem to be a faulty survival mechanism – hard-wired techniques for maximising resources that worked when we were on the ragged edge of extinction in the ice age, but now serve to create problems.

      Perhaps we could also liken humans as cancer cells on the petri dish that is Earth.

      Extinction is a euphemism for extermination, considering how many and the manner in which members of many endangered species have met their fate and untimely end.

      99% of all species that ever appear on Earth are already extinct since life began.

      The average lifespan of a species is one million years. The human species (counting the early hominids) has lasted six million years. Extinction is the rule; survival is the exception.

      Even if humanity were to survive and later conquer other planets, there will be no guarantee that humanity will not repeat its mistakes and export its problems to other extra-terrestrial worlds.

      By the way, I have hyperlinked this post with mine at


      1. Hi soundeagle

        Thanks for your thoughts

        Yes I agree that we as humans don’t seem to have much in the way of a development self control switch. The only hope is that our civilisations do go through a development cycle:

        Early stage – living with nature

        Development stage – learn how to harness and control nature which is also generally associated with wide scale habitat clearance and pollution

        Stabilisation stage – understand the value of ecosystems and live in more sustainable ways with nature

        Technology can also help us fast track these stages but the challenge now is to move developing countries through the middle stage as fast as possible to ensure we don’t get more serious global scale environmental problems

        Agree with you about mars
        Interestingly Martian rovers are built and developed in sterile conditions so they don’t take microbial hitchhikers with them

        At least someone is taking this seriously


        Liked by 1 person

    3. Hello Rigby and Prof. Andy Lowe,

      I would like to inform you that I also deal with a whole host of very similar and very different issues from some multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives in a special and detailed post at

      Both of you are very welcome to critique or review the said post to your heart’s content.

      Happy December!


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