When my husband and I and our baby moved to the northern suburbs nearly nine years ago, we were struck by how loud the birds were in the morning. In fact, it was to the point of being borderline annoying to me. I remember grumpily stumbling over to the window to shut it as the birds too cheerfully sang me out of my slumber. Even though I knew deep down that the biodiversity that flourished in the surrounding wetlands was a blessing, momentary crabby thoughts like, “if it’s not the baby, it’s the birds stealing my precious sleep,” would enter my mind. We would often remark how astonishing it was that mornings in the north metro sounded like the eco-resort we visited in Costa Rica.
Admittedly, I am no ornithologist and haven’t conducted decade-long biotic index studies to track the bird populations in my area, but I do notice that the springs seem quieter. I am no longer roused by songbirds. I wonder if what I’m reading in the news is what I’m witnessing in my own yard.
Last year, 15,364 scientists from 184 countries signed “A Second Notice,” which is an open letter to humanity pleading for humans to cut greenhouse gases and reverse the trend of collapsing biodiversity. They were seeking to raise awareness that a mass species extinction is currently happening. This is the sixth mass extinction in the last 540 million years.
What’s causing the loss of biodiversity isn’t a big mystery. People are causing the loss of biodiversity through consumption of goods created from natural resources and altering natural habitat for food production. According to a May 2018 study by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 60% of the world’s mammals are livestock, 36% are humans and only 4% are wildlife. That means 96% of the world’s mammals are either people or food for people.
This is a difficult topic to approach because, of course, I am a person who consumes goods and resources. I also like to eat. Every day. Preferably several times a day. I am clearly as much at fault as every other person. I cannot pretend to be outside of this problem looking in.
People talk about “saving the Earth,” but let’s be real. The Earth has made it through the last five mass extinctions just fine. It’s not about saving the Earth, it’s about saving ourselves from ourselves. We are currently sawing off the branch we are sitting on. We need to overcome denial, fear, busyness and doing nothing because we are unsure if it will be enough. Carl Sagan once said, “Today we are facing many challenges. But the craziest thing we can do is to do nothing.”
We got ourselves in this mess, now it’s time to get “all hands on deck” to get us out of it. We need to focus on what unites us and creates community so we can work together. The fact that we all need food is a good start. And since feeding ourselves is causing devastating biodiversity and climate impacts, that makes it another reason for starting with our food systems.
I found the book “Drawdown” and its companion website drawdown.org to be helpful resources. While these resources focus on using existing solutions to draw down greenhouse gases to manageable levels within the next 30 years, the solutions offered would also benefit biodiversity. Perhaps the most energizing aspect of this research is that nothing new needs to invented, the solutions just need to be implemented. In fact, 17 of the 100 solutions were food based. Just composting, having plant-rich diets and reducing waste have enormous global implications—and those are things most of us can start doing today. As Wendell Berry said, “Eating is inescapably an agricultural act, and how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used.”
Dawn Pape is the founder of a nonprofit called “We All Need Food and Water” focused on educating about issues challenging our food and water systems and encouraging people to take action with their forks. Pape is also a proud Ramsey County
Master Gardener volunteer who loves attempting to grow her own food.