What Can Be Done To Prevent Mass Extinctions

May 12, 2019
Originally published on May 12, 2019 11:41 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

As many as a million species of animals and plants are at risk of extinction, many within decades. That's according to a new United Nations report on biodiversity. The report is dire, but there is good news. Many of those trends can be reversed. So what can we do, as individuals, to help? Andrew Deutz from The Nature Conservancy joins us now to explain more. His organization contributed research to the report. Welcome to the program.

ANDREW DEUTZ: Thank you. I'm pleased to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's start with your views on these findings. You've been working on these issues for a very long time. Were they surprising?

DEUTZ: Not really, but only because I've been working on these issues for a long time. We've seen the trends that have been happening around the world. The report is a wakeup call that we are utilizing species and the services that ecosystems and nature provide faster than the planet is able to regenerate them. And if we continue on that trend, it's likely to undermine our ability to maintain our health and prosperity for future generations. So we have this global biodiversity crisis. At the same time, we have a global climate crisis. And we have to solve them both together.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are there things that we - humans generally and Americans in particular - can do to change or alter our behavior and try to head off this extinction apocalypse?

DEUTZ: Yeah, I mean, there's a lot we can do as citizens in terms of supporting policies and politicians who are prepared to face these challenges and look at them as investment opportunities and improving our livelihoods and our health. But there's also a lot we can do as consumers. So the biggest commodities that are responsible for tropical deforestation are beef, soy, oil palm and pulp and paper.

So if we're conscientious consumers, we can demand that companies provide those products sustainably and that we, particularly, make decisions every time we're in the grocery store about those - or making sure that we're getting them sustainably sourced. The other thing we can do is always use renewable energy. I mean, I - here, I live in the Washington, D.C., area. And my electric utility allows me to purchase 100% renewable energy, which means that helps solve the climate problem.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what about something that I could do in my own backyard?

DEUTZ: Well, one of the species that - or one of the challenges that's called out in this report are declines in the populations of pollinators around the world - so birds and bats and bees, quite literally. In the United States and Europe, they're declining by about 40%. In most of the rest of the world, we don't have good data to know how much they're declining. But about a half a trillion dollars a year - trillion with a T - in agricultural products depend on those pollinators. So you can do things in your own backyard to make them pollinator friendly, to plant the right kind of plants and grasses and flowers that those species of bees and birds depend on and not use pesticides that harm them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Obviously there's a clock running, though. I mean, time is short.

DEUTZ: Everything - well, the challenge is we need to do it. We need to do it now. And we need to do sort of everything at once. One of the cheapest, most readily available and cost-effective things that we can do to both solve the biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis is, first, stop deforestation and, second, restore forests and then, third, change our agricultural practices to increase soil carbon and soil health. And the interesting thing is that can actually increase productivity to feed a hungry world and make our agriculture more resilient to climate change. So the point is there are a bunch of things where nature is actually the best solution provider to the climate crisis if we manage it right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Andrew Deutz is the international director of government relations at The Nature Conservancy.

Thank you so much.

DEUTZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.