Why Nature Matters - 12 Deadly Effects From Losing Nature & Wildlife

June 28, 2016  •  17 Comments

In our modern digitized world, there is a tendency to treat preservation of nature and wildlife as a boutique issue.  "It's nice, but it doesn't really matter anymore in the modern world..."

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Plenty of marketing messages reinforces the subliminal impression that destroying nature--or at least pushing it back away from civilized life, makes us healthier and safer.  The world is turning forests into fields to make it easier for us to get food, and building dams provide electricity to power modern life and the creation of jobs.  When is the last time you have heard a high-level politician mention the importance of nature to our long-term survival?  

A recent study by the National Academy of Science convincingly argues that the continued loss of habitat is increasingly a matter of life-and-death for humanity.  The study laid out twelve dangerous effects that I think every person should read and understand.  

This new study makes it clear that if we don’t start paying much closer attention to nature, and to the state of the natural world, we are all in imminent danger of ending up dead. The solution lies within each of us at a local level.  It isn't as simple as conserving water or teaching people new behaviors.  While those things are important and good choices, it simply isn't enough.  I don't think things will improve until we elect officials that understand the dangers outlined in this article.

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The authors of the new study, who come from Harvard University, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International, and other respected institutions, make one major recommendation. Up to now, our research into the natural world has been driven primarily by scientific curiosity. Instead, scientists now need to think a lot harder about policy.  I believe it also extends to the election of the right people at the local, state, and federal levels.  Let's require more of our political representatives.   

12 DEADLY EFFECTS FROM LOSING NATURE & WILDLIFE

1. In Asia, Africa, and South America, those seemingly beneficial dams and irrigation projects have created new homes for the aquatic snail species that transmits schistosomiasis. It now afflicts more than 200 million people worldwide, with symptoms including coughing, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and fatigue. The altered habitat also provides breeding places for mosquitoes and other disease-carrying organisms, increasing the incidence of malaria, filariasis, encephalitis, and other dreadful diseases.

2. Our increasing incursions into remote wilderness areas are bringing epidemic diseases out of the jungle and into our backyards. Roughly 75 percent of emerging diseases—think HIV, Ebola, West Nile virus, SARS, and the new coronavirus in the Middle East—spillover from the animal world.

3. When we reduce the variety of species living in an area, we make it more likely that new diseases will spill over to humans. The “dilution effect” theory suggests that when you have many species in a habitat, some of them will be ineffective, or even dead ends, at transmitting a particular disease pathogen. So they dilute the effect of the pathogen and keep it from building up and spilling over to humans. Studies have correlated reduced species diversity with increases in West Nile virus, Chagas disease, Lyme disease, and hantavirus.

4. When we destroy coastal mangrove swamps in Sri Lanka or dune vegetation on the beach in New Jersey, we lose vital protection against deadly storms. In the Asian tsunami of 2004, one village in Sri Lanka that had cut down its mangrove swamps to create shrimp farms suffered 6,000 deaths. In a comparable Sri Lankan village whose mangroves were intact, only two people died.

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5. By providing nursing grounds for young fish and for the prey species they will eventually eat, those mangrove swamps are responsible for about 80 percent of the global seafood catch. The continuing loss of seafood, as well as of land-based bushmeat, threatens a large segment of the human population with chronic iron and zinc deficiencies, meaning anemia, fatigue, and other symptoms.

6. Most of our drugs, including all antibiotics, originally came from the natural world. To cite three examples: ACE inhibitors, currently the most effective blood pressure medicine, were derived from the venom of South America’s deadly fer-de-lance snake. AZT, the first drug to turn AIDS from a death sentence to a treatable disease, was derived from an obscure Caribbean sponge discovered in the 1950s. Prialt, a potent pain medicine, comes from a Pacific cone snail that people used to value only because it has such a pretty shell. 

7. When plant breeders need to make a drought-resistant strain of rice or a wheat variety that doesn’t drop dead from disease, they often borrow traits from closely related plants in the natural world. The need for those traits is increasing because of climate change. But borrowing only works if there is a natural world left to borrow from.

8. When we lose habitat and species, we also lose essential pollinators for our crops, including insects, birds, and bats. Honeybees pollinate about a third of U.S. crops, and the recent drastic decrease in their population imperils a harvest worth more than $15 billion a year. According to the study, pollinators are a key factor in producing about a third of the calories and micronutrients we depend on.

9. Clearing forests have led to reduced access to fuel for cooking, creating an extra burden for the women and girls in developing nations who do the wood gathering.

10. Loss of hillside forests means water tends to run off rather than soak in. That makes it harder to find water for crops, sanitation, or safe drinking. Again, it’s the women who have to go farther and pump harder, then carry the water home by the bucketful.

11. More than 100,000 people have died in the civil war in Syria, which, it’s been argued, was set off as much by persistent drought as by bad government. On a much smaller scale but closer to home, a heat wave in 2012 caused 82 known deaths across the United States and Canada. Climate disruption is likely to cause increasing human health impacts in the form of heat stress, air pollution, respiratory disease, and food and water shortages. The question of social justice runs through this discussion: We in the developed world tend to benefit in our relatively prosperous lives, while the poor and disenfranchised get stuck with the bill.

12. In our mobile, rootless society, it’s easy to forget what we have never had.  But losing habitat can mean losing an essential sense of place and of self, and that can lead to depression, emotional distress, and other psychological effects

You hung in there and read this entire article! You should be proud of yourself because the vast majority of people today won't make these types of investments.  Nature and its connection to humanity aren't a "sexy topic" in our modern digitized world.  Please click on the "add comment" button below and say "nature matters".  As a bonus, let me know what part of the world you live in today.  

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-Tim Layton 

Tim Layton
Darkroom & Large Format Photography
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Comments

Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Richard, thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, comments, and words of encouragement. The world needs more people like you.
Richard Vaara(non-registered)
Without nature and access to it, we are doomed as a society. It's what keeps us grounded and at the same time connects us with something MUCH larger than ourselves.
I'm blessed to live in Washington state, and surrounded by mountains and lakes, and less than two hours to the Pacific ocean. I've in this area for over 50 years, and absolutely cannot imagine a day in the future when it could look drastically different.
I enjoy "making" photographs with my Tachihara 4X5 field camera, and my favorite lens, the Caltar II-N 210 5.6. I also have done flower portraits for the past twenty years with the Mamiya RB67...and yes, Dahlias are my favs! Thanks so much for allowing access to your site, Tim. Kinship with folks like you is what keeps me inspired. I pray the good Lord bless you and keep you in all your future endeavors.
Karsten(non-registered)
Yes, Nature matters! We are NOT concious enough to appriciate, what nature really means IN the "civilisied" world - we just do NOT know. Thank you for your pictures and engagement! Denmark/Europe
Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Peter, thank you very much for your thoughtful and insightful comments. In my mind, this article was about the "why" and not about solutions, although I think that was lightly covered via this statement "Up to now, our research into the natural world has been driven largely by scientific curiosity. Instead, scientists now need to think a lot harder about policy". For me, that infers that new policy is at the center of the solution. You have inspired me to dig deep and publish new articles that clearly offer practical approaches to the challenges. If you have any articles or information about solutions, please send them to me via email. Thanks again and stay in touch. Tim
Peter Dadson(non-registered)
Nature matters as stated in the article. Yes and yes there is a but . . . . This article by learned authors seems to lack what many studies or lectures have in common. It is easy to point out the dangers but very hard to offer, say 12 good solutions that are balanced, well thought out and palatable by the public at large especially those in the third world. 12 deadly effects are presented and now what we need are the same authors to present 12 real solutions.
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