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Human Civilization Is Under Threat. We Must Save Nature to Save Ourselves

By Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Birds scavenging the waste at Robinson Deep landfill

This is a rough moment to read or listen to environmental news. As we’re experiencing a seemingly unending parade of rollbacks and pro-polluter actions coming out of DC, the international science community is ringing the alarm bell on a series of issues that need attention — now. Most notably, last year’s IPCC climate report made clear that action needs to happen fast if we are going to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

That report was scary. Now there’s a new scientific assessment of global ecosystems on the verge of collapse — and it’s downright horrific.

The United Nations’ Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services reflects the scientific expertise of 150 biodiversity experts from 50 countries on behalf of the Intergovernmental Science – Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The report is organized around four key messages:

  • Nature underpins and sustains quality of life, but its contributions to people are deteriorating worldwide.
  • The issues and practices pushing us toward natural collapse have accelerated during the past 50 years. For example, over the past 30 years, global trade has increased eightfold.
  • Short-term goals for protecting nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, but goals for 2030, 2050 and beyond can be achieved through transformative change, which means a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.
  • Nature can be conserved, restored and used sustainably while simultaneously meeting other global societal goals through proven solutions and transformative change.

In short, the report says we need to protect nature — or nature is going to stop protecting us in some very frightening ways: disappearance of species we care about and rely on, like pollinators and freshwater fish; decline in agricultural yields due to severely damaged soil; eradication of forest ecosystems, along with all the carbon storage and wildlife home benefits they bring; and elimination of freshwater streams that provide drinking water for our survival.

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