The old preservationist paradigm of conservation—one still held by esteemed ecologists like E.O. Wilson—is that governments and non-profits should lock up as much of the world’s land surface as possible—putting at least 30% of the earth into protected areas. However, many of us recognize that most remaining forests, prairies and scrublands are no longer “virgin.” Estimates vary, but the proportion of vegetated land already transformed by humankind is 39 to 50%. Similarly, at least 50% of ocean bottoms and estuaries are said to have been dredged or “plowed” by shrimp trawlers.
In sum, a recent National Geographic map suggests that 83% of the earth’s surface already shows the indelible footprint of humankind. No less than 1.5 billion people on this planet still daily depend on the impaired productivity of degraded lands. That’s why preservation alone—without ecological restoration as a complement— is no longer a viable option for maintaining the earth’s diversity and its productivity. Just as we must ethically prioritize the needs of the poorest and most marginalized peoples among us, we must do the same for the poorest and most abused landscapes and seascapes.
Our new paradigm suggests that environmental justice activists must therefore move from merely “stopping bad things from happening” to lands, seas and those dependent upon them for their survival. They must be forward-thinking and inclusive enough to engage all races, cultures and classes in restoring degraded lands and waters back to their full health and productive capacity, and concomitantly work to restore the health, dignity and productivity of the world’s most wounded and disheartened peoples.
No small task, this restoration of our common home!
Brother Coyote, OEF