2020 Takeaway: We need nature, so let's protect it

Mon, Jan 4, 2021

2020 Takeaway: We need nature, so Iet’s protect it.

At the start of each new year, people tend to take stock of their lives and figure out what’s worth keeping and what needs to be purged. 2020 was such a bad year in so many ways—too obvious and too numerous to recount here. But since it was such a bad year, wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t learn anything from its hardships, pain, and losses? What were the lessons learned? Have we figured out what’s really important? Have we changed any of our priorities? Personally? Professionally? As a nation? Do we have a better dream for this coming year?

The silver linings for my family were not needing to get up so early and have everyone rush out the door. It was nice to skip the commutes, eat lunch together, and to find new ways to entertain ourselves together. Our best days were when we got outside. And judging from the empty shelves at Play It Again Sports stores, and the crowded parks, we weren’t alone in finding refuge in the outdoors.

Reconnecting with the outdoors is definitely one of the takeaway lessons from 2020. As a society, we ran to nature to heal our minds and our hearts. My dream for this upcoming year is that we also remember that nature supports more than our mental health. It supports our physical health too.

Every day we depend on biodiversity, or the variety of life found on Earth, to keep us alive and healthy. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the foods we eat, and the medications we take are all by-products of a healthy planet. And when we damage the Earth, we damage our own health. But somehow environmental concerns are generally framed in a “saving the planet” perspective, rather than saving ourselves.

Furthermore, as forests are destroyed, we are in closer contact with wildlife that harbor pathogens such as the coronaviruses, Ebola virus, and Lymes disease. This begs the question: will protecting biodiversity (aka nature) help protect us from a lifetime of needing to quarantine from other viruses that may be released?

We are at a unique time in history dubbed the Anthropocene Epoch. Anthropo is Greek for humankind and cene for new. This (unofficial) unit of geologic time describes the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started significantly impacting the planet’s climate and ecosystems. With nearly 8 billion people on the planet today, resources grow continually scarce, but consumption rates continue to rise. We are seeing the ill effects of our consumptive behaviors through deforestation, pollution, draining of wetlands, and climate change wiping out species and damaging ecosystems at unprecedented rates. The situation is unsustainable.

To protect biodiversity, each individual must consume less because there are more of us humans to support. It might be time to question whether our American culture, which centers on having more, going faster, instant gratification, and individualism is still serving us. These cornerstones of our culture are the drivers for our overconsumption of resources.

But what does protecting biodiversity look like in our daily lives? It means reducing the consumption of energy and resources. Here are some lifestyle tweaks and tips to significantly decrease environmental impact with little effort on your part.

Reduce home energy use…

-Get an energy audit and take care of any leaky windows or poor insulation.

-Line dry clothes and save 7-8% on energy bills.

-Advocate for renewables and smart building i.e., net-zero building, passive design that requires no furnace or A/C.

-Limit hot water use by washing clothes in cold and taking short showers with low-flow showerheads.

-Unplug devices to avoid “phantom” energy use.

-Unplug mentally by relaxing away from screens. Our collective digital footprints are greater than the airline industry.

Reduce stuff you buy

-Instead of buying occasionally used items, try borrowing, sharing, or renting items. For example, does everyone on the block need to have their own snowblower?

Change your transportation

-Reduce driving.

-Consider an electric vehicle powered by renewables.

-Advocate for equitable transportation, walkable cities, bike infrastructure, public transit, electric vehicles, car-share programs, etc.

Rethink your food

-Avoid food waste - it makes up 8% of global emissions.

-Strive to eat minimally packaged, locally-grown, organic, regenerative, plant-based food.

Written by Dawn Pape on behalf of the Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission (BCWMC), a local unit of government comprised of the nine cities that drain to Bassett Creek, focused on protecting water. BCWMC is a member of the West Metro Water Alliance. www.bassettcreekwmo.org.

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