Humanity must play a more constructive role in Earth’s future

Humanity must play a more constructive role in Earth’s future

Humanity must play a more constructive role in Earth’s future
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At the Convention of Migratory Species’ COP14 summit this month — a global meeting on the conservation of migratory species — the UN released a report that sounded much more like a distress call from a sinking ship than a report on the “State of the World’s Migratory Species.”
According to the report, nearly half of migratory species are declining in population and more than one in five are threatened with extinction. This threat is even more alarming when it comes to fish, as nearly all — more than 97 percent of all fish — are threatened with extinction.
Overall, the number of endangered species in the world, migratory or otherwise, is 157,190, of which 44,016 face an existential threat. Almost all the endangered species are on the list due to human actions, led by avarice and pollution. Humans have killed these animals for food or monetary benefit, such as fishing or hunting for meat or other animal parts, such as elephant tusks for ivory or rhinoceros horns and tiger parts for their alleged aphrodisiac effects.
But the most flagrant impact of humankind is felt in the seas, where overfishing has led to the decimation of practically all varieties of fish, whether freshwater or marine. As many as 25 percent of freshwater fish are at risk of extinction due to the impacts of various kinds of human activity, the biggest of which is pollution, as it threatens the existence of 57 percent of all freshwater fish at risk of extinction. Meanwhile, overconsumption of water or the construction of dams and barrages threatens 45 percent and overfishing has driven one in four of all freshwater species to the brink of extinction. Lastly, disease and the introduction of other species, often by humans, impacts one in three species.
What makes matters worse is the addition of climate change to this already complex equation of elements that threaten these species. It seems that decades or even centuries of mindless human activity has led to this process of extinction accelerating and gaining momentum to such an extent that, today, not even reducing our activity would necessarily slow down the journey toward extinction for most of these species. Some recent findings indicate the extent to which we have created this apocalyptic scenario for the other inhabitants of this planet.
Take a common fish like the Atlantic salmon. As recently as 2006, it was a species of least concern, meaning it was available in plenty. Over the next 14 years, its population plunged by 23 percent and the species was moved to near-threatened. It is now restricted to a small portion of the rivers it inhabited across Northern Europe and North America a century ago, due to multiple threats over the course of its long-distance migrations between freshwater and marine habitats.

While the scenario seems dramatically bad for many species, it may not be too late for all life on Earth.

Ranvir S. Nayar

Studies indicate the degree of impact of various human actions on the Atlantic salmon, with anthropogenic climate change affecting all stages of its life cycle, such as influencing the development of young salmon, reducing prey availability and allowing invasive alien species to expand their range.
Dams and other barriers block access to spawning and feeding grounds, while water pollution and sedimentation, primarily from logging and agriculture, lead to higher mortality. Moreover, breeding with escaped farmed salmon threatens many wild populations and may weaken their ability to adapt to climate change.
The story of the Atlantic salmon shows how rapidly the situation can get out of hand due to the potent mix of a variety of factors created by humans. And it is true of practically all species on the planet.
While the scenario seems dramatically bad for many species, it may not be too late for all life on Earth. Concerted actions and investments in facilities can still help to pull at least some species back from the brink, with the UN report highlighting a few success stories in which certain species have staged a dramatic comeback.
For instance, the saiga antelope that is found in Central Asia, from Kazakhstan to Mongolia, has seen its status improve from critically endangered in 2015 to near-threatened in 2022. Kazakhstan, which has 98 percent of all saigas, saw its population increase by 1,100 percent between 2015 and 2022 to hit 1.3 million.
According to the UN, the improvement in the saiga’s status is the result of extensive anti-poaching measures, along with education programs, the training of customs and border officials and actions against illegal sales in consumer countries. Similar success stories can be found in the case of certain subspecies of rhinoceros in Southern Africa. One of the most astounding recovery stories comes from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where many iconic species, from tigers and elephants to tapirs and pangolin, have benefited from conservation efforts.
There are some other such happy stories, which should raise optimism about the possibility of humans being able to play a constructive role in helping to restore the environment and biodiversity that they have so recklessly destroyed over the past few decades. This was mainly due to their greed and carelessness regarding the impact of their actions on the health and well-being of not only themselves, but also of their surroundings.
However, even these few successes have only been chalked up thanks to sustained, well-coordinated and well-funded actions that have been made with the involvement of all stakeholders, including governments, local communities, businesses and law enforcement departments, as well as greater awareness across the world.
Only when all these conditions are met can we aspire to play a more constructive and positive role in shaping the future of the Earth, rather than that of reckless and mindless destruction, of which humans have largely been guilty until now.

  • Ranvir S. Nayar is the managing editor of Media India Group and founder-director of the Europe India Foundation for Excellence.
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