This article was written for thespec.com in April 2018 (B. Ekoko).
Biological diversity, or biodiversity--the variety of life on earth and its interdependence--matters. Deeply. Desperately. Urgently. Even for those of us who spend most of our days in front of computers, the only nature we see being photos that we like on instagram.
Why is biodiversity so important?
Diversity makes living things adaptable--and we need all the adaptability we can get, given projected increases in extreme weather events, coupled with fragmented ecosystems, habitat loss and destruction, diseases, and a host of other ills that are becoming our daily reality.
Biodiversity is the health of the planet: it is literally life. But biodiversity is declining globally at such an alarming rate that scientists are calling this “biological annihilation” of wildlife in recent decades a sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history, with millions of species being lost for ever. Some are saying the crisis surpasses even climate change.
Rapidly disappearing biodiversity means we are actively weakening our resiliency (including our food security). With loss of biodiversity comes loss of genetic diversity, which means fewer kinds in a given group that can handle the changes and still thrive--so we are basically diminishing chances at adaptability. Very, very bad. Because wildlife populations are declining so fast, there’s talk of safeguarding space for nature with proposals from groups like Nature Needs Half https://natureneedshalf.org/ to make 50% of the planet a nature reserve.
Some scientists are proposing integrated patterns of wildlife areas and linkages so that species can move throughout these, tracking preferred temperatures as the planet warms over the next 100 years, and preserving genetic diversity between populations.
What to do? So how do we create and support more biodiversity here at home in our neighbourhoods, in our cities, provinces and country? First off, educate ourselves. Who is doing what?
Canada has a biodiversity strategy
Canada has set Biodiversity Goals and Targets for 2020. Our national goals and targets support the global Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 in accordance with commitments under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
Provincially, Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy, 2011 is the guiding framework for coordinating the conservation of our province’s rich variety of life and ecosystems. Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy includes commitments to report on the State of Ontario’s Biodiversity and on progress in achieving Ontario's 15 Biodiversity Targets every 5 years.
But we are lagging behind the 2020 target miserably. We can't even protect 17% of the nation’s natural heritage. This seriously sucks. To this end, Ontario Nature has started a campaign to change this called the Protected Places Declaration inviting residents to sign.
Cities (where most of us live) have tremendous potential to do good. Scientists are asking us to look at the peripheries of our cities in particular, where there are opportunities to enhance biodiversity. From the Atlas of the End of the World, “'Cities are generally preoccupied with their commercial and cultural centers whereas----they now need to look to their peripheries, for it is there that nature and culture are at loggerheads and it is there that the long-term environmental health of a city will be largely determined.”
Many cities are developing their own biodiversity strategies. For example, Toronto’s Biodiversity Strategy has been in the works officially since September, 2015. The City-lead draft is going before the City's Parks and Environment Committee (a Standing Committee that reports to Council) in May of 2018. The Strategy pulls together under one umbrella, several different initiatives including green infrastructure like green roofs, and is a high level strategy, bringing together a more concerted effort, and a preliminary list that focus on habitat, function (example pollination), Taxa (like the Bees of Toronto publication and species).
Toronto’s pollinator protection strategy (a section of the Biodiversity Strategy) is going to the City’s parks and environment committee this April for consideration.
Calgary has a 10-year biodiversity strategic plan since 2015 as well as a biodiversity policy, and the City of Guelph has a natural heritage action plan to die for, with its 36 action items.
Hamilton Get into it! We need a biodiversity strategy too.
The Hamilton Pollinator Paradise Project (building an uninterrupted pollinator corridor across the city of Hamilton) has actively began looking into what a strategy for Hamilton could look like so stay tuned by following the project.
It’s also important for all of us to do our bit. As residents, homeowners, businesses, institutions, we all have a role to play today, and in leaving something decent behind for future generations. From seed saving to planting habitat there is something that every single person can do.This spring, plant some precious trees and wildflowers for nature. Let your elected leaders know that you care. They should too.