Building our future beyond the climate crisis
The United Nations COP26 climate conference in Scotland is upon us. While the action is currently taking place in Glasgow, the international meeting is generating more and more conversations in the United States.
At a time when a majority of Americans now say they and their fellow citizens are affected by global warming, nearly two thirds believe it is not too late to slow down the climate crisis and start making a difference.
It is imperative to take this message now to the United States Congress, where critical legislation is currently pending in the House and Senate. As the international community focuses on the global commitments needed to address the atmospheric changes responsible for greater storms, droughts, fires and sea level rise, we have our own work to do in Washington. Conservation groups run by zoos and aquariums are now organizing to do just that.
Why zoos and aquariums? These institutions have a long history of educating the public on the conservation of wild places. The facilities that make up the Association of Zoos and Aquariums collectively attract over 200 million visitors each year.
Perhaps equally important, today’s climate crisis is directly linked to a growing biodiversity crisis. The United Nations has suggested that as many while a million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction today. The threat to biodiversity is the destruction and degradation of countless unspoiled landscapes that provide habitat for species large and small and store carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
Such intact areas are also a key reservoir of viral pathogens like SARS-CoV-2 to which people have no natural immunity. The possibility of “zoonotic” spread of these viruses from wildlife to humans is dramatically increased as the integrity of large tracts of forest is compromised – largely due to the carving of these areas for industrial agriculture, mining. resources, transport infrastructure and via illegal wildlife. Trade.
To tackle the climate crisis leading to the ensuing extinction and pandemic crises, we must begin to actively define our future. At the heart of this response must be the employment of nature-based solutions. These are approaches that take advantage of – and protect – the “services” nature already provides to help us avoid or adapt to the changes brought by an increasingly hot planet.
Forests themselves are our best natural protection against carbon emissions. They absorb about a third of all fossil fuel emissions produced each year by physically storing, or sequestering, this carbon directly. Today, intact forests contain massive amounts of carbon, equivalent to about 11 years of human-related emissions.
Intact forests also provide economic and cultural security for indigenous peoples and local communities, whose tenure must be guaranteed to enable them to sustainably manage the 36 percent of the world’s intact forests that they inhabit, particularly in the Amazon Basin. . Solutions based on nature and human well-being must go hand in hand.
Our seascapes also play an essential role. Mangroves and coastal wetlands, along with oyster beds and coral reefs, naturally help reduce the ferocity of the waves resulting from the increasingly powerful storms generated as the planet continues to warm.
As the average global temperature moves at an increasing rate towards 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, we cannot afford to wait for our leaders to act. We need an active and informed population to think outside the box and advocate for new policies designed to protect the planet at this critical time.
The zoo and aquarium community across the country is now rising to the challenge. Using our voice and collective energies, we will work to double U.S. investments in conserving global biodiversity over the next four years, advancing federal, state and municipal policies that support nature-based solutions to climate change, and ensure that US and global climate finance pulls back. in solutions based on nature and intact forests.
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As we turn our attention to COP26 and the global response to the climate crisis, let us remember that there is important work we can and must do right here in the United States. It will take the dedicated action of not only scientists and policy makers, but ordinary citizens from coast to coast to coast. At a time of national division, tackling the climate crisis is an urgent priority that unites us all.
John F. Calvelli is Executive Vice President of Public Affairs at the Wildlife Conservation Society and Chairman of the Government Affairs Committee of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.