As in every edition of this compendium, here we assemble and summarize research offering evidence of the power of ecosystems to address climate breakdown. The themes presented:
- forest dynamics
- ecological intensification and
- transformative change
were chosen based on recurrent themes of mostly recent reports and studies. Not surprisingly given its centrality to ecosystem function, the idea of biodiversity weaves through all three themes.
Forests, especially tropical forests, are considered the lungs of the world because of their vigorous breathing in of carbon dioxide and breathing out of oxygen. Protecting existing forests and regenerating previously cleared forests is widely understood as a key component of mitigating climate change. What’s not as well appreciated is the role of biodiversity in the ecological functionality of forests. For reforestation to sequester requisite amounts of CO2, slow down water during storms and provide adequate habitat for species otherwise condemned to extinction, reforestation should aim to closely mimic natural, biodiverse forests. The studies presented here examine various symbioses in natural forests that drive forest dynamics. The ecosystem simplification that comes with monoculture plantations risks losing these important interspecies partnerships.
Ecological intensification relies on biodiversity to address agriculture’s double objective of increased productivity with minimal environmental harm. Upending deeply ingrained beliefs that high yield and ecosystem regeneration are mutually exclusive outcomes, ecological intensification focuses on replacing high-tech inputs with ecosystem services capable of delivering equivalent agronomic outcomes. To put ecological intensification’s productivity potential in perspective, consider that natural ecosystems are far more productive and resistant to pest infestations than are croplands, despite no fertilizer or pesticide use. As for crop yield? A core difference between ecology-based versus high-tech/high-input farming systems is the variety of crops harvested, due to more complex rotations on ecologically managed farms. However, the total per-acre yield between the two systems is likely to be comparable. Moreover, because ecological farming practices protect and build the soil, they are likely to be more productive in the future as drought, heat waves and flooding become more frequent. In short, a global proliferation of highly productive, ecologically functional farms can contribute enormously to healing the planet.
Transformative change – how does that relate to the theme of biodiversity? First, a growing awareness of biodiversity’s sharp global decline is prompting a spate of proposals for transformative change aiming to restore not only biodiversity, but also climate stability and democracy. Second, biodiversity in a figurative sense, meaning human diversity represented by hundreds of thousands of tiny NGOs in every corner of the globe, is rising from the embers of a civilization in decay to solve the problems threatening our collective wellbeing and survival. It is within the culturally, socially and geographically diverse local communities of the world that transformative change is most readily initiated and achieved. This local action has been dubbed ‘blessed unrest’ by author Paul Hawken [Hawken 2007]. It represents a spontaneous, decentralized, leaderless global movement approximating humanity’s immune system response to the ills caused by a long-standing vacuum of integrity and goodwill among the governments of the world.
In the concluding portion of this document, we recount just a handful of the millions of untold stories of blessed unrest. Perhaps these will be the stories that future generations tell to explain what catalysed the transformative systemic change that rescued humanity from the brink of social and ecological collapse. Leading up to that, we report on relevant discoveries and analyses from scientists and others who are putting the pieces together to explain not only the extent of harm done to the planet, but also to illuminate some of the drivers of the biosphere’s vitality, and how to navigate the way forward from here.
Hawken, Paul, 2007, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement In the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming, New York: Viking Press, https://www.blessedunrest.com/.