It’s Not Nice To Fool (with) Mother Nature

Hundreds of local projects to restore ecosystems on coastlines and mountains, in river valleys, forests, and grassy plains, have proved their worth in using restored nature to boost the resilience of millions of people to the ravages of onrushing climate change … Most are cheaper and more effective than any engineering alternatives, with more spinoff benefits for ecosystems and fewer downsides.”

                                                                                ~ Fred Pearce

We think about planting trees to combat climate change, but that’s just one ‘natural’ approach to the battle. We engineers think we can ‘fool’ Mother Nature with solutions that involve moving dirt and pouring concrete, not all that airy-fairy conceptual stuff. It’s easier to see and touch hard solutions, like trees or walls, than to ponder about biodiversity or ecosystem health. However, it seems that the ‘concrete’ solutions are mainly reactive, and if we want to be proactive to mitigate future problems, we need to get Mother Nature involved.

Engineering projects have much the worst record, Lisa Schipper of the Environmental Change Institute in Oxford told Fred Pearce. “Many backfire leaving many of the poorest even more vulnerable to climate change than they were before. Sea walls protecting farmland in Bangladesh, for instance, often increase the risk of flooding in the lowest-lying areas, which are vital for the poor and landless.”

Fred Pearce also quoted Zac Goldsmith,the British environment minister with a brief for foreign aid, “‘… you tend to get much more bang for your buck in nature-based solutions.’ Investing in nature was his ‘default position’ because it was capable of simultaneously ‘dealing with mitigation, adaptation, poverty, and a whole bunch of other issues,’ he said.”

So, nature-based solutions seem to have a broader view, beyond just addressing the initial problem. Pearce said “In the Rift Valley in Kenya, pastoralist communities around Lake Baringo are creating small enclosures on their rangelands, from which livestock are temporarily excluded and where they can restore indigenous vegetation and bolster ecosystems and soils against worsening droughts. The work also improves local diets and provides new sources of income through sales of livestock, harvested grass seeds, grasses for thatching, honey, and charcoal.”

In another example, he quoted Jane Madgwick, CEO of Wetlands International, “… erecting brushwood barriers in the mud to help the natural regeneration of mangroves as a nature-based response to rising sea levels and worsening storms … to protect and restore their denuded coastlines — all at a fraction of the cost of sea walls … Unlike sea walls, mangroves appear to keep pace with rising sea levels, self-seeding inland to maintain their barriers against storms and tidal surges and nurturing marine fisheries… salt marshes, sea grasses, and coral reefs all reduced the height of storm waves at typically between a half and one-fifth of the cost of sea walls.”

Forests recycle CO2 and ozone faster than mechanical purifiers, and have many other side benefits as well as lower costs. Mangroves work more efficiently than walls, and provide habitat for all kinds of biota at lower costs. There are many opportunities to effectively battle climate change if we just think a little outside the box.

We need to work with Mother Nature, not against her. She’s been here a lot longer than we have — and she’s no fool!

Additional information:

Fred Pearce, Why Are Nature-Based Solutions on Climate Being Overlooked?,  April 18, 2022, YaleEnvironment360

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