What have we done to our planet?
After a long pause of international travel, due to Covid-related travel restrictions, I decided to participate again in person at the IPBES-9 plenary. The WHAT? IPBES stands for Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. It is a UN process and in short could be named the International Council for Biodiversity. During these plenaries actually not the major amount of work is done, but the work which is done between plenaries (between 12 to 18 months) is assessed, the reports scrutinized and agreed on after more or less rough haggling between member states about words, commas, and content.
Okay, so since 2020 I did not travel much and seemingly got acquainted to the green and lush landscape in the foothills and the mountains of the French Pyrenees I live in. The few travels I have done within France where by train, so I have not seen Earth from above since a while. Yesterday, I took the plane to go to Bonn, Germany, for IPBES and what I saw from above was shocking to me. It really did hit me hard.
I crossed urbanized landscapes, agricultural land and saw only a few patches of trees - small, actually very small islands of green in a human-dominated landscape.
Aerial photo (Google Maps) of the vicinity of Toulouse
Than, taking the airport bus to Bonn, I crossed the Rhine river. What I saw was industrialized riverbanks. Devastating!
Where would bears hide, wolfs? Where the deer? Where are the pure, clean water bodies for amphibians and other species? Where are the open grasslands, the old growth forests? Both teaming with life, when existing. We have pushed all species back to small patches and reserves. We complain, when we get across wildlife such as wolfs and bears. Dangerous! We forget that we are the invasive species, that it is the human species asking for more and more space. We do not hear the screams of nature… we are deaf to them.
What have we done to our planet? All the places I crossed by plane where naturally forests or at least grasslands. This was a long time ago! Was it? Well, it depends on how you define time… 1200 years seems to be a long time for humans, but for some tree species this means just 2 or 3 generations. Between the year 850 and until the agricultural revolution in the changes were slow. So, actually what we see now and to which we got used to actually happened only in the last 200 years. That is definitely not a long time. We caused havoc to our environment and nature. Why? Was it creed? Was it necessity? Was it naivety? Likely it was a combination of all of this.
Figure from Jungclaus et al.
We have destroyed all of this for heating ourselves, for feeding ourselves and for producing goods for ourselves. We have deliberately destroyed nature for our comfort, and for our livelihood, without remorse. We now wonder why the planet is sick, why it is feverish. Here in Bonn, IPBES now discusses in which state Mother Earth / Nature is in and what we can do about it.
Experts (= academics) produce massive reports on various aspects of the state and trend of biodiversity worldwide. These reports are an enormous effort to pull together current knowledge on the most challenging topics of preserving, protecting and repairing our planet and ways out of the biodiversity crisis. I can only hope that the work makes the difference we need, that humanity leaves its naïve view behind, changes its invasive behavior and does everything to maintain biodiversity, a huge part of our global life support system.