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..."
Every acre that is protected, every river mile restored, every species brought back from the brink, begins with you. Your support will help make a lasting difference.
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.
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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.
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 transmit 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.
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 heatwave 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.
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