Solutions 4/5: Threats and responses

By Huck Fairman

As anyone paying attention could not avoid noticing: there is a lot going on around the world over the last several weeks.

Here the focus will be on environments and efforts to save them.

In our Midwest and in Southeastern Africa flooding has brought real, existential crises to those regions. Full recovery will not happen quickly, if at all. Look at Puerto Rico or the Northern California forests and communities.

Dangerous heat levels have brought a different type of crisis to New Dehli, with a population of over 19 million.

The heat levels in the atmosphere, which allow it to hold more moisture, and in the oceans, which affect species, acidity and levels, will be bringing additional undesirable changes.

In response to global warming, high school students in Princeton, and across the country, and in many places around the world joined in strikes calling for action. This week in Germany, students there followed those examples.

But even most of the nations that signed the Paris Climate Accord have not lived up to their prescribed emissions reductions.

With a president and political party that all but ignores all of this, as do some leaders in other nations, is there any hope?

The answer, expressed by scientists and observers, is that yes, there is hope. Not to stop all global warming that is already in the system, but possibly to ward off the worst repercussions.

Biologist Edward O. Wilson, professor emeritus at Harvard, argues that key to our survival, in addition to reducing emissions, is preserving environments and their biodiversity, on which we depend. This is not a question of preserving picturesque animals on the plains of Africa or in the Amazon, but of preserving food sources from the many threats, including the fact that we have fished the oceans out of all but two percent of what it once was.

Also, the populations of pollinators for our food crops have been sharply reduced.  With insufficient food, what will the world’s population, heading toward 10-11 billion, eat? And hungry, how will they respond? With warming temperatures, we have already seen agriculture and plant life moving north, along with insects, birds, and diseases. The increasing temperatures are already stressing food sources and water.

What does he offer to save our civilization? In addition to adopting efforts to reach net zero carbon emissions, he argues that we need to set aside about half of the surface of the land and sea as a preserve for remaining flora and fauna.

This is not as extreme as it first sounds, for as Wilson explains, “Large parts of nature are still intact – the Amazon region, the Congo basin, New Guinea – not to mention the oceans. There are also patches of the industrialized world where nature could be restored and strung together to create corridors for wildlife.”

Moreover the oceans account for 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, and small portions have already been protected as preserves. In many countries, as well as ours, the re-establishment of forests is an acknowledged goal. In Mercer County, the D&R Greenway Land Trust, and Friends of Princeton Open Space are working to preserve land and wildlife.

Wilson reassures us that this idea does not require moving populations, but instead, expanding the concept of the U.N.’s World Heritage sites, those that have been recognized as “priceless assets of humanity.” His guiding maxim is: “Do no further harm to the rest of life.”

Wilson reminds us that we know how to respond, if we can work together toward the unity and political will to do so. In this country, much will depend on whether voters understand the urgency of these crises and vote for those representatives who support widely-acknowledged solutions. There is no more important issue before us.