“It is past time to broaden the discussion of the human future and connect it to the rest of life.”
E.O. Wilson, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life
Extinctions. Habitat loss. Climate change. We are wreaking havoc on the natural world.
In spite of his dire warnings, E.O. Wilson is relatively upbeat about our chances for not destroying the earth. His faith in human resilience, creativity and reason is amazing. He sees a solution in reducing our ‘ecological footprint’ on the earth — defined as the amount of space required to meet all of the needs of an average person. Population growth is slowing, and with greater education, he expects to see the birth rate drop below the 2.1 children per woman that yields zero population growth.
And, he proposes that we preserve half the earth’s surface for nature:
“The Half-Earth solution does not mean dividing the planet into hemispheric halves or any other large pieces the size of continents or nation-states. Nor does it require changing ownership of any of the pieces, but instead only the stipulation that they be allowed to exist unharmed ….
If global biodiversity is given space and security, most of the large fraction of species now endangered will regain sustainability on their own.”
This is a great idea, and I support it. I’m unsure what is necessary to make it happen, but it’s a great goal. However, I’d like to think that we can do something locally to support the effort. A few suggestions:
- Improve your ecologic footprint through energy conservation, recycling, using locally-derived resources, etc. This is basic environmentally-responsible behavior. If you don’t know what that is, ask a teenager.
- Reduce the resource commitment (energy, fertilizer, water) for your yard and garden. Through laziness, I have reduced my lawn watering and mowing so that what exists is pretty hardy. A few years ago, we switched from a gas mower (so that I now have a coal- and natural gas-fired (electric) mower). We seldom use pesticides or herbicides and we compost kitchen scraps and yard waste, using the compost in the vegetable garden every Spring.
- Make your yard more nature-friendly. I don’t control much of what happens in the Amazon rainforest or the Indonesian jungles or the Pacific Ocean, but we do have a yard and a neighborhood. What could we do to make these areas more contributory to the natural world?
Most of my yard has native or very established trees and shrubs. I’ve tried to plant local bushes, including the native choke-cherry transplanted from the alley and other bird-friendly species, like currant. We’ve planted flowers that attract bees and butterflies. I feed the birds (and apparently also feed the squirrels.) There is a family of mice that live in the compost pile (at least the cat seems to think so). The pile of rocks at the back of the yard hosts garter snakes that hunt insects in the adjacent garden. The pile of tree trimmings against the back fence provide winter shelter for little birds that flush out noisily when I take out the trash or recycling.
Birds can be one of the the easiest measures of how nature-friendly your yard is. The three things that a bird-friendly yard needs access to are food, water and shelter. Not every yard needs a pond or stream, but water needs to be accessible within a bird’s range, say a block or so. My dog water bowl serves the little birds (along with the squirrels), that don’t range much, but the creek a few blocks away seems to satisfy the larger birds and animals — except for the raccoons that like to wash their food in the bowl.
The preferable habitat for most birds consists of a mixture of trees, shrubs and open ground. This arrangement fits nicely into most urban and suburban yards, where trees can be situated along the outer edge, fence lines or the street or alley. Shrubs fit nicely beneath the trees, adding to the yard’s boundary definition and enhancing privacy. The center space can be an open lawn, providing open ground for birds and squirrels to graze, and drawing our eyes into a bucolic, restful scene.
For too long, we have worked to make ourselves separate from nature. We want a nature that is orderly, clean and under our control. With the billions of us that are going to inhabit this earth, we no longer have the option of us versus nature – it’s got to be an integrated environment that includes us both.
We can set aside areas where one or the other, humans or nature, is dominant, but even those places must have accommodation for the other. Wilderness areas and central business districts reflect the extremes; however, peregrine falcons nest on skyscrapers and backpackers wander the wilderness. Pretty much everywhere else is some combination of the two extremes. Suburbs and urban areas are rife with vegetation, bird life and various animals. Farms and ranches reflect both the hand of man and the footprints of nature. We create open spaces and parks to enrich our lives and warm our souls, and nearly every man-made structure has its uninvited occupants.
Maybe it’s not a stretch to find ways to integrate humans and nature. Whether intentionally or not, we’re already doing it. Nature has found a way as it usually does. With a little focus, we can easily let a little more nature into our daily lives.
Maybe the Half-Earth solution isn’t as far away as we fear. Maybe it’s just out there in our backyards, waiting.
Additional reading: Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O Wilson. Copyright © 2016 by Edward O Wilson.
I know a few cats that use your water bowl, too. Would you say that your yard is bird and cat friendly? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on outdoor cats. You know my bias — I’d rather have cats in my yard than birds; but, maybe it’s not an either/or.
It’s a quandary to me, but it’s not an either/or. Marzluff in ‘Suburdia’ reports that one in ten birds are killed by cats, but he also notes that bird populations in suburban areas are extremely healthy and diverse. I’ve had intermittently outdoor cats and bird feeders for years, and only occasionally have one of our cats been a serious birder. All the bird people say cats are bad, and most cat adoption places encourage (or require) you to keep your cat indoors. Personally, I’m more concerned about feral cats that don’t have a steady food source than our pampered, overweight, toy-saturated pets.