Transitioning from a fossil fuel economy won’t be enough without putting back the pieces of Earth that regulate climate.
The most reported cause of the climate crisis is the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Even Shell admits, now, that oil companies knew long ago that burning fossil fuels would change the climate.
“Yeah, we knew. Everybody knew,” confesses Shell CEO Ben van Beurden, “And somehow we all ignored it.” ~Shell’s Crude Awakening, Time Magazine, January 27, 2020
Funny thing is, thousands of people still deny that global warming is being caused by human activities because of the superb gaslighting done by oil companies over several decades.
Big Oil’s propaganda machine did such a fantastic job, that people truly believe it to be a hoax to this day. Even though the oil companies themselves are now owning up to one of the most consequential and destructive scams in history.
But this article isn’t about oil
It’s about the other, equally significant contributor to the climate crisis. As we’ve pumped oil out of the Earth at an alarming rate over the last 50 years, we were also reducing its ability to reabsorb the carbon by deforesting the planet at an equally alarming rate.
And we didn’t just reduce the number of old trees. (Trees over 200 years old absorb many times more carbon than young trees.) We also dried out peatlands and drained swamps to develop the land. And through modern industrial agriculture, we’ve destroyed a lot of Earth’s ability to sequester carbon in soil.
Floods, Fires, and Bigger Storms
The news talks endlessly about the fossil fuel side of the climate crisis. But you’ll hear few, if any, reports about the loss of wildlands, wetlands, and habitat as a major contributing factor.
This is because the topics of ecology and earth sciences are as dry as a popcorn fart. It doesn’t engage the average viewer or reader.
It is far easier to put up a picture of a drilling rig (or the entire continent of Australia) on fire and talk about Big Oil’s role in the crisis. The news companies get a visceral reaction, ratings go up, they make more money.
Nature Has An Even Bigger Role To Play In Averting The Climate Crisis
There is good science to prove why bigger floods, more intense fires, and more catastrophic storms are happening. And you can go super deep into that science to understand a lot more about how this planet works, if you like.
The simple answer is that Earth regulates climate with a balance of healthy, carbon sponging soil, forests, swamps, grasslands, wetlands, and oceans.
It takes vast wilderness areas, a huge number of protected lands (like National Parks), government managed forests & grasslands, and huge swaths of healthy oceans, mangroves, and rivers to regulate climate.
We’ve always been in a precarious position when it comes to natural climate-disruption events.
Add to that 100 years of releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
PLUS! Take away an enormous amount of old trees in the Amazon, and the rest of the world, and only replacing them with saplings that won’t become effective carbon sinks for at least 75 years, and you have the perfect recipe for a climate crisis.
Yes, we must radically reduce carbon emissions. And fast. But if that’s all we do, it won’t be enough.
And just planting trees won’t be enough, either. Laudable mass tree-planting efforts around the globe are underway or planned. Reforestation is a key component of Rewilding, but it must be conducted with an understanding that a gaggle of trees does not make a rich, diverse, multi-story forest.
Not, at least, a forest that is capable of sustaining many other species and of sucking good quantities of carbon out of thin air.
Conservation biologists must be consulted in order to ensure the right trees are planted in the right places (with consideration of the local, historic ecological functions of forests).
Even then, only nature knows how to knit the final pieces together to make a full functioning ecosystem. We just have to try and get the right pieces into place based on our still weak understanding of how nature creates ecosystems that support life.
Are you surprised to find that we still don’t know how that works? We’re ripping apart a system that we have no idea how it works in the first place, beyond a remedial understanding.
Like a child taking apart an old clock and creating a big pile gears, springs, and cogs, which he has no idea how to put back together. Luckily our clock, Earth, knows how to mend itself given enough material and time!
The Future Is Rewilding
Rewilding includes the full protection and connection of wilderness and wild places. It is also about restoring formerly pristine wildlands over time so that they can once again thrive and provide habitat for a dwindling number of species.
While we radically reduce the amount of carbon we’re putting into the atmosphere, it is also vital that we reclaim and restore at least 50% of the planet’s land and waterways to their former climate-regulating, biodiverse glory.
While we reduce emissions, we need to protect and rebuild the planet’s ability to soak up carbon. No machine has been invented that will do a better job than a healthy ocean or forest.
Both rewilding and a radical reduction in carbon emissions are needed to avert the worst of what’s coming.
Not only will this two-pronged approach help humans avoid a cascade of catastrophes in the coming decades, but it will also begin to pay back our debt to a planet full of species who have an equal, intrinsic right to live and evolve alongside us.
Follow groups in your ecoregion and find out about volunteer opportunities for on-the-ground rewilding projects. In most places, people re working on wetland restoration, reforestation, or wildlands protection projects and they need your help!
Follow organizations dedicated to education and action around rewilding. This includes wilderness groups, national parks organizations, and ocean protection orgs.
- Climate, Nature and our 1.5°C Future connects the findings from four major recent scientific reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
- The Rewilding Institute: Learn more about Rewilding and how it can not only help avert climate catastrophe, but reset the balance of nature, thwart biodiversity loss and stop Earth’s 6th mass extinction event currently underway.
- Wild Carbon, A Synthesis Of Recent Findings. Mark G. Anderson, PhD
- Nature Needs Half, an organization dedicated to ensuring humanity protects half of the planet’s waterways, oceans, and lands to protect biodiversity and bolster its ability to stabilize our climate.
- IPCC | Climate Change and Land (2019) An IPCC Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems (PDF)
- Listen to the Rewilding Earth podcast to hear from some of the world’s top scientists and experts on biodiversity, wilderness and wildlands protection, climate, and endangered species protection.