As 2020 draws to a close, let’s take a moment to thank one entity that rarely gets the full measure of gratitude it deserves: Nature. Nature-based solutions to the global environmental challenges we face are at the heart of WCS’s mission to save wildlife and wild places.
Strategies designed to keep nature intact and undegraded help it to continue performing the many ecosystem services so critical to our survival — from storing carbon and protecting biodiversity to containing pandemic disease and sustaining the livelihoods of people in communities across the globe.
Here are just 10 reasons to express appreciation for nature:
Globally, intact forests store store an estimated 139 billion tons of carbon — equivalent to 510 billion tons of CO2. Released into the atmosphere, this would equal 13 years of human CO2 emissions from all sources. Nature-based solutions, like avoiding deforestation and forest degradation and restoring forests, can provide one-third of the mitigation needed between now and 2030 to keep warming below 2°C.
PROVIDING ACCESS TO CLEAN WATER
At a time when close to a billion people on Earth lack access to clean water, watersheds supply water for drinking, agriculture and manufacturing, and recreation, while providing habitat for wildlife and plants. Wetlands and forests play a critical role in filtering water, while plants remove dangerous levels of nitrogen and phosphorus found in fertilizer runoff.
PROVIDING STORM, FLOOD, AND EROSION RESILIENCE
Species such as oysters both filter water and provide natural resilience to storms. Adult oysters can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day and oyster reefs provide a cushion against large waves and rising tides. In so doing, they reduce flooding and prevent shoreline erosion. Other coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves likewise protect against storm surges and growing sea level rise.
PROVIDING FOOD SECURITY
With its sustainable development goals (SDGs), the United Nations set a target date of 2030 to end global hunger. While we may not meet that goal, there is no question that nature plays an essential role in ensuring food security for millions of people. With proper management, we can sustain fisheries for the approximately 40% of the world’s population that relies on fish as a significant source of animal protein.
PREVENTING ZOONOTIC PANDEMICS
The World Health Organization finds that 75 percent of new infectious diseases in the past decade are zoonotic, or transmitted between animals and people. That trend has drawn attention to the degradation of natural landscapes for roads, infrastructure, development, and through commercial wildlife trade for human consumption — exposing us to previously contained pathogens for which we have no natural immunity.
Healthy landscapes and seascapes play a pivotal role in supporting the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the globe. Roughly 60 million people are engaged in fishing-related jobs, while the ecotourism industry is valued at more than $200 billion dollars by varying estimates. Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities rely on nature for income-generating activities from fishing, wool production, honey harvesting and other sustainable uses.
A wide range of species that includes both insects — bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, beetles and moths — and bats pollinate the crops that we all depend upon for our survival. Close to 90 percent of all flowering plants and 75 percent of the world’s food crops rely on these pollinators entirely or in part, at a time when they face growing threats like colony collapse disorder.
At a time when the United Nations estimates that some 1 million species face the threat of extinction, intact natural areas are essential to ecosystem integrity and the protection of biodiversity. We understand today the connection between biodiversity, climate change, and pandemic disease more clearly than ever. When we protect nature, we protect ourselves.
SOURCING NEW MEDICINES
Close to half of the approved drugs during the last 30 years were derived either directly or indirectly from natural products. Paclitaxel, isolated from yew tree bark, is one of the WHO’s “Essential Medicines” for cancer treatment. Exenatide, a synthesized version of a compound in Gila monster saliva, helps some two million people with type 2 diabetes.
SUPPORTING OUR PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALTH
Growing research suggests a close relationship between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. Nature sounds can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, thus reducing the body’s fight-or-flight response. The effect appears to be especially strong for those who have suffered loss, as so many have this year due to the COVID pandemic.