If you believe one interpretation of the Maya calendar, the end of the world is nigh. Although it strains credulity to suggest an apocalypse will take place on Friday 21 December 2012, let’s not immediately dismiss the idea. After all, even if Armageddon is nothing more than a metaphor, it can still focus the mind.
As every day passes, our world seems to become smaller. Recent advances in cosmology indicate that planet Earth is really very tiny, as miniscule as a grain of sand in the vastness of space. (Indeed, if the world as we know it on planet Earth were to end on Friday, it would certainly be of little consequence to the rest of the universe.)
In terms of human society, our planet is now far too small. The Earth’s resources are no longer capable of sustaining the planet’s ever increasing population at a reasonable level of income and comfort. While pioneers search beyond the horizon for planets that can sustain life, it is hard to imagine places on Earth as yet uncolonised by the human race.
As an organisation that acquires land for its conservation value, World Land Trust (WLT) is more conscious than most that the wild areas of the planet are shrinking and becoming less biodiverse by the day.
Wherever you look, the earth is being mined, ploughed and built on to within an inch of its life. Watercourses, which are often little more than outlets for industrial effluent, are dammed, drained and diverted. To say nothing of the pollution of the air and the sea. For centuries the natural environment has been sacrificed on the altar of economic progress.
So are we approaching the end of the world as we know it? Or at the very least a tipping point? Has economic growth won the race to the bottom?
I have recently come across a publication by Willem Ferwerda - a newly appointed WLT Council member and former director of IUCN Netherlands with whom WLT works closely - that proposes a theory of ‘nature resilience’. Willem is a fellow of the Rotterdam School of Management and founder of Leaders for Nature. The paper draws on his extensive experience in business and ecosystems.
As Willem points out, more than two billion hectares of ecosystems are now degraded. This means that the life-giving benefits of these ecosystems are also at risk: carbon storage and sequestration to combat global warming, stabilisation and purification of water supplies, regulation of local weather and provision of shelter for insects that pollinate food crops.
If the degradation continues, we risk gambling away the very building blocks of life. It’s a chilling prospect, but Willem refuses to be daunted. He suggests that as well as conserving the remaining wild areas, as WLT does through land purchase, already degraded ecosystems can also be restored.
He envisages ecosystem restoration partnerships that bring together interest groups including business, local people, farmers, business and NGOs, an idea that he is already putting into practice in the Netherlands. (This greatly oversimplifies his theory and the full report, available as a download, goes into much more detail.)
In general, WLT’s experience of working in partnership with a range of stakeholder groups including business has been productive and rewarding, and WLT wholeheartedly agrees with Willem that working in partnership with industry is part of the solution to the environmental crisis. His report is currently being circulated for comment: feedback is welcome and should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, assuming we are all still here after Friday, I for one hope that we shall soon see the end of an old world, and the start of a new and better one. By grappling with the issues, and by seeking practical and collaborative solutions, we may yet come to see a new era, one in which human society is part of the natural world, and not the cause of its demise.
Nature Resilience: Organising ecological restoration by partners in business for next generations: http://www.worldlandtrust.org/documents/nature-resilience-organising-ecological-restoration-rsm-cem-iucn.pdf (0.5 MB)
Christina Ballinger is WLT’s inhouse Writer