It’s especially easy for city-dwellers to forget just how much we depend on biodiversity. The air we breathe and the water we drink are purified, and the soil that produces our food is balanced, all thanks to multiple and complex interactions between trees and other plants, insects, animals, fungi, microorganisms and bacteria of all kinds. Regardless of where we live, we are the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. Nature dwells within us as much as we dwell within it and transform it.
But today this nature that allows us to exist is threatened. Our lifestyles and population growth have caused a wave of extinctions and species decline at a rate and in such numbers that they equal all five previous mass extinctions in the Earth’s history.1 The situation is so serious that scientists are now calling this the sixth mass extinction. The last time this happened was when the dinosaurs disappeared. Yes, that long ago.
While it has been clearly proven that humans are the main culprits behind biodiversity loss, they are also driving the changes needed to turn things around. Our species can see the danger coming, and is intelligent enough to change our behaviour. At other times in history we have been able to make the necessary decisions to avoid a nuclear war, halt the destruction of the ozone layer and reduce some industrial pollutants, for instance. Now we have to make some decisive choices to protect biodiversity and prevent climate change from getting worse.
We can each take action as individuals and as a community, doing what we can to protect our natural habitats, reduce pollution, create green spaces and so improve our collective wellbeing. We need citizen-based initiatives to push governments and businesses, locally and internationally, to act. Within all organizations, be they public, private or non-governmental, there are people making decisions every day that change the world. We rarely grasp the scope of their often invisible actions. Yet it is all these individual and collective choices that are transforming society and the environment.
Today, to help us make the most of every opportunity to act to protect biodiversity, Espace pour la vie is launching the program for its Human and Nature Encounters. I am honoured to be the spokesperson for these events.
The program offers all kinds of original experiences, ways to think and talk about our relationship with nature. A dawn stroll and a night outside in the botanical garden are great ways to experience nature in the city. Espace pour la vie will also be bringing together Montrealers and experts in eight Montréal homes, to think about ways of living differently. Then, this fall, members of the public will be invited to reflect on how we dwell in nature, on our planet and in the Universe, as anthropologist Serge Bouchard, sociologist Jean-Philippe Pleau, chemist Thierry Lefebvre, astrobiologist Nathalie Cabrol, philosopher Marie-Hélène Parizeau and I will all be speaking at the Planétarium Rio Tinto Alcan. In short, a wide range of activities on a human scale, encouraging humility, respect and empathy toward nature.
On this International Day for Biological Diversity, I invite you to take at least one action to protect the diversity of life on Earth. In fact, why not put one of the Human and Nature Encounters on your calendar? Doing something to make the world a better place adds to personal happiness, you know, so I’m sure you won’t regret it!
1 DIRZO, S.; YOUNG, H., GALETTI, M., CEBALLOS, G., ISAAC, N.B. and COLLEN, B. (2014). Defaunation in the Anthropocene. Science. 345(6195). p. 401–406.