Nature conservation and a warming world — Protecting the climate by protecting nature

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Let’s jumpstart this post by looking at the relationship between conservation and climate change.

It’s a pretty simple mechanism. Trees, scrubs, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, and so on store and suck up atmospheric carbon.

We all know how photosynthesis works: plants take in carbon dioxide (CO2) and use it to produce fructose and oxygen.

Conservation is that same process, only on a larger scale. When forests and grasslands are protected, or cultivated from developed areas, CO2is stored in the plant material. 

Keep your cool — how forest and grasslands affect climate change

It can seem almost incomprehensible that something as simple as keeping grass on the prairie affects our global climate, but in truth, it affects us more than we think.

Recently, an article was published in Quaternary Science Reviews about some rather surprising effects of the discovery of the Americas. It’s been long acknowledged that when Europeans settled on the American continents, more than 60 million people (equivalent to 10% of the world’s population at the time) died from warfare, measles, smallpox, and societal collapse.

Now, there is evidence that the death of 60 million people in the 16th century caused what is known as the Little Ice Age, a time where Europe was unusually cold and the Thames in London would freeze over in the winters.

The Fair on the Thames, February 4th, 1814, by Luke Clenell. Credit: Wiki Commons

It might sound crazy, but the absence of the 60 million indigenous people meant that the areas cleared by cultivation and the expansion of pre-Columbus civilizations would be reclaimed by nature.

 

This regrowth was enough to suck up so much CO2from the atmosphere that the global level of atmospheric carbon fell by 7–10ppm, resulting in global cooling. The unit ppm refers to parts per million, and is a term used to indicate the amount of gas by volume in the air. If you think this sounds familiar it’s because we often use ppm to measure just how much man-made carbon is being added to the atmosphere. In 2015, we surpassed the 400 ppm mark.

 

This is crucial because 400 ppm is the amount of atmospheric carbon that will push the world over the 1.5°C threshold, meaning that the world will likely get 1.5°C hotter than it was during the pre-industrial area.

 

A little conservation never hurt nobody — invisible effects of nature conservation

Lowering the level of atmospheric carbon is crucial for the health of our planet and maintaining a stable climate. Of course, we should not replicate the genocides of history, but learn from the past that if we keep clearing natural land, we will experience global consequences.

It plays a vital role in keeping our climate at a healthy temperature, by storing and absorbing CO2.

But as it turns out, conservation has even more invisible effects. One of the most significant effects of conservation, besides from climate change prevention, is securing biodiversity. Globally, we are seeing a biodiversity crisis, where the populations of almost all animal species are plummeting. Since the 1970’s more than 60% of the worlds animal population is gone, due to human activity.

ConservationIn North America, more than one-third of all bird species are at risk of extinction. According to the Endangered Species Committee of the American Fisheries Society, 40% of North America’s freshwater fish species are imperiled or already extinct, and 47 species of North American bumble bees face some level of extinction. And we haven’t even started on amphibians, insects, or mammals.

Furthermore, the animal kingdom is not the only one to take a hit. The IUCN writes in their report form 2014 that more than 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost.

This is tragic in itself, but the drastic loss in biodiversity also has large monetary implications. The term ecosystem services refer to the services we get from nature, which are often not accounted for. These include water purification, crop pollination, pollution absorption, and more.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), these global services currently amount to $33 trillion USD per year. To put that into perspective, the US GDP was $19.39 trillion in 2017. Conservation secures these services and helps uphold a healthy biodiversity

But wait, there’s more.

Nature conservation also creates local jobs, in terms of both forestry management and local tourism near park areas.

Furthermore, there are the added health benefits of spending time in nature. A study from 2016, led by the Institute for European Environmental Policy, showed that protecting natural areas and green infrastructure can contribute to improving air quality, cooling cities and land areas, reducing noise, offering exercise and recreational opportunities, and more.
As recent as 2018, Scottish doctors have even started prescribing more time in nature, as a treatment for some mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, etc.

 

Prevention and protection — when you take care of nature, nature takes care of you

We’re still not done talking about the benefits of nature conservation.

Conservation often doubles as climate change mitigation and protections, meaning that spending money on conservation will decrease the needed funding for climate change mitigation, such as protective measures against floods, storms, and droughts.

“Ecosystems not only help to mitigate climate change, but also add to climate resiliency and adaption. For example, wetlands helped to avoid over $600 million in direct flood damages during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. More generally, coastal wetlands in the US have been estimated to provide storm protection services worth $23 billion annually.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 

All in all, nature conservation has enough monetary value to make it a good deal, even if we ignore its benefits for climate change and the sheer beauty of the natural world. 

Conservation, the wonder drug of climate change prevention?

Although conservation can provide up to 30 percent of the mitigation action needed to limit global warming to 1.5 °C, it’s Conservation climate changeimportant to note that it is not a silver bullet. Remember the 7–10 ppm reduction in atmospheric carbon that caused the Little Ice Age? That was brought on by reforestation of an area the size of France. Even if we committed to a reforestation project that size again, it’s worth noting that we currently release the equivalent 3 ppm into the atmosphere each year, meaning we would only be pausing our CO2effects for 2–3 years.

But reforestation and conservation have been proven to effectively combat climate change, protect and create habitats for biodiversity restoration, and double as climate change mitigation.

It’s a cost-effective way of doing a lot of good, and should without a doubt be part of the many initiatives we take to halt climate change. 

If you want to support conservation and reforestation efforts, offset some of your carbon with our affordable offsetting plans. Our offsetting program focuses on conservation and reforestation through the American Carbon Registry and the Climate Action Registry