Ecological conservation will always be important as long as there are ecosystems left to conserve, but the future of biological diversity – and by extension the viability of a planet habitable for humans – will hinge on our ability and willingness to reforest, rewild and restore landscapes, transforming them from devastated and often toxic deserts into self sustaining and self cleaning forests.
In order for reforestation and ecosystem restoration efforts to be effective on the scale required to curb the worst effects of climate change, these cannot rely on donations and government programs. Non-profits and NGOs have undoubtedly done great good in many places and contributed to ecological restoration and human livelihood, but this model is simply not scaleable to the degree our current predicament requires.
Fortunately, the value of biodiversity and Nature’s contributions to people are becoming better understood each day. Agreements being made at the inter-governmental policy level around this new understanding of the value of Nature. In addition, public awareness and “ecological malaise” are building pressure to address the accelerating decline of our natural environment.
The impetus for re-greening projects provided by carbon tax and trade initiatives has yielded results in many areas that have led to improved livelihoods and quality of life for local and Indigenous communities. As the tangible benefits of diverse landscapes become apparent, investors looking for opportunities in a rising green economy are taking note.
From productive mangrove regeneration projects along the coast of Kenya to coffee and cocoa forests in Southern Mexico, examples of ecologically and economically successful ecosystem restoration efforts are growing. The tide is shifting away from an aid mentality towards one of investment and collaboration.
This is a crucial time when the biological expertise of long-ignored environmental practitioners such as permaculturalists and food forest gardeners is rapidly gaining recognition. It is a time to organize new guilds and write business plans. It is a time for new accounting practices that measure and manage ecosystem services.
Beyond carbon capture, accurate measurements for water retention and purification, soil fertility, oxygen generation and the productive yields of biodiverse landscapes must be developed and included in planning and design stages for all development projects.
By the same token, the risks and costs of degrading and disrupting these ecosystem services must owned by the entities profiting, and a full account of environmental injuries must be made.
The days of corporate profits being subsidized by wholesale ecosystem destruction are coming to an end. Smart investors are beginning to see that sustainable returns based on sound ethics are the way forward.
Organizations and communities already working on ecosystem restoration should not be afraid to put themselves forward as service providers, with full confidence in the value and marketability of their expertise.
Ecosystem restoration and the productive opportunities this creates are without a doubt the future of environmentalism.