5 Monumental Actions Critical to Averting Global Environmental Crisis and Protecting the Biosphere

colombia_3027David Olson, Mongabay
Waking Times

Human-caused changes to our biosphere—the global total of the world’s ecosystems—are now so great and alarmingly rapid that human lives and societies undoubtedly face epic challenges in the near future as our biosphere deteriorates, planetary boundaries are reached, and tipping points exceeded. We may survive, we may painfully adapt, but it is a fair bet that grave hardship, loss, and sacrifice lay ahead. The nature and extent of impacts among human populations hinges on how successfully we respond to the biosphere crisis with extraordinary leadership, balanced solutions applied at global scales, and unprecedented cooperation—or not.

Human-transformed ecosystems and technological fixes simply cannot replace the role of robust, complex, and interconnected natural ecosystems in maintaining the biosphere’s favorable conditions. For this critical reason, any viable response to the global environmental crisis must greatly expand the level of protection currently afforded to wild life and wild places through monumental conservation action. Five global-scale conservation actions are priority.

Protect and Restore Natural Landscapes and Seascapes

Somewhere in the range of forty percent of our planet’s surface needs to be more “natural” than “developed” (or “heavily exploited”), balanced between the terrestrial (~26% of the planet’s surface with ice caps covering ~2.6% ; 50% of the land recommended managed as “natural” to achieve biodiversity and biosphere function goals), freshwater (~2.75% of the surface; ~50%+ managed as “natural”), and marine realms (~71% of the Earth’s surface; ~33% of seas managed as “natural”). A half is likely impractical given current human abundance, explosive increase (a 40% increase by 2050 is projected), ubiquitous distribution, exploitative efficiency, and sky-rocketing resource demands. But oft-deliberated protection goals near 10% will inevitably fail to sustain biospheric processes or conserve much at all of the Earth’s complex tapestry of diverse life forms.

At least a third of all seas and coastlines require strict protection, even on the high seas where reserves should shift to track dynamic productivity hotspots and wildlife aggregations. Restoring resilient marine ecologies and balanced fisheries will require no-take Marine Protected Area (MPAs) networks protecting at least a quarter of all coastlines along continents, archipelagos, and islands, coral reefs, and trawling bottoms (shallow water benthic habitats) around the world. All remaining natural habitat on land must receive long-term protection and restoration, with an initial emphasis on larger, well-connected natural landscapes, remaining habitat in biodiversity hotspots, and vanishing habitat types and biomes. Restoration on land and expanded reserves will be necessary to reach the goal of a half of the Earth’s land surface in “natural” condition.

It is imperative to protect all old-growth habitats, whether they be unlogged forests, ungrazed deserts, untrawled seafloor, or unfished seamounts, as these remnants are ancient repositories of rich and vulnerable biodiversity and optimal arenas for life-sustaining processes. A bet-hedging strategy to assist as many terrestrial species as possible to persist in the face of changing climates is to protect larger natural landscapes that encompass diverse habitats, complex landforms, and strong environmental gradients; and emphasize protection of habitats that can function as climate microrefugia (for example, old-growth forests, shady slopes, riparian habitats) for local adaptation and persistence of vulnerable species.

Ban Harvesting Larger Marine Species

All commercial harvesting of larger marine species (for example, cetaceans, sharks, giant clams, billfish, groupers, Bluefin tuna) should be banned for several decades to allow species and populations (and fisheries) to rebound and regain their ecological roles. A range of species with foundational roles in ecosystems, such as pollock, squid, clupeids (fish like sardines, anchovies, herring), and krill, will inevitably require a generous level of protection to sustain fisheries and associated marine communities.

Banning International Trade in Wildlife

All international trade in vulnerable and threatened wildlife―large and small, terrestrial and aquatic, plant or animal, edible or inedible―must be immediately halted to stem the global hemorrhaging of wildlife populations and biodiversity that is leaving us a very lonely and dysfunctional planet. Vulnerable species require strict protection everywhere, whether they are traded or not.

Remove Dams

Healthy rivers must flow again accomplished, in large part, by the worldwide removal of obsolete and poorly-considered dams and barrages coupled with the restoration of riparian, wetland, and headwater habitats at watershed scales.

Protecting Our Atmosphere

Compounds that damage the Earth’s fragile and essential ozone layer must be immediately banned and we must strive towards good progress in reining-in greenhouse gas production.


These five actions may seem dauntingly ambitious, yet they are all achievable by a committed global community within the next two to four decades, which is very likely our window of opportunity to avert biospheric disaster. Global programs empowered by the support and compliance of all nations and people have to be rapidly organized and funded to put in place a functional biosphere stewardship program and manage it into the future, vigilant against crimes against the Earth, co-option by economic interests, bureaucratic quicksands, and misguided nationalism. Grueling necessity will inevitably spur a measured or panicked response from an increasingly desperate humanity. We should have a good plan ready when that happens.

About the Author

David Olson is a conservation biologist with Conservation Earth Consulting, Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at conservationearth (at) live.com.

This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.

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  • Aude Sapere

    tecolote: I totally agree with everything you said. Not all humans are Earth-destroyers. American Indians lived in harmony with Nature for thousands of years, until their land was stolen by Europeans. The same is true of most indigenous peoples around the world. Industrialized corporate “civilization” is unsustainable on a finite planet. It will eventually self-destruct. Most people will die. Is it evil conspiracy or mere stupidity and greed? In a society based on sociopathic principles, exemplified by the SCOTUS-certified corporation as a legal person, sociopaths rise to the top, and run (ruin) everything. When corporatism collapses, I hope there are still enough native peoples in deep forests that have not been too polluted to survive and restore the earth.

  • There seemed a glaring omission – Overall I would agree there need to be preserved a considerable amount of land and sea untouched and unexploited by humanity.
    Well, unexploited… but must it be untouched? particularly if we walk lightly or even better caress this fair land.

    The point of view of the article relies on the assumption that where humans are, they fuck things up. Yet we are also a species born of this earth, and herein lies the omission, if we lived in a harmonious manner there would not be such a need to fence off areas and ban humans.
    Personally the word banned reeks too much of authoritarianism.
    I am fully aware that the assumption “where humans are, they fuck things up” is based on a great deal of fact. that is obvious. yet it does not apply to all humans.

    The problem is our culture, our traditions and our mindset. The desacrilisation (making it no longer sacred) of nature, results in abuses and destructive actions that are the calling card of western attitudes to the environment.
    And religion is a major culprit – for that is where peoples ideas of the sacred originate. Judaism, Islam and Christianity – the 3 big players, all see this “creation of god” as ours to do with as we please, whilst repressing the feminine aspects of life that allow a more emphatic position in relation to the world in which we live and the creatures we share it with.
    For the buddhists its all just an illusion, so what the heck.

    By regaining our connection to the natural world on a personal level, to pollute and destroy habitat becomes anethema and repulsive.

    Unfortunately our connections to natural resources have been taken out of our hands. The wood for our houses, the plants for our food, the metals mined from the mountains etc is obtained and harvest by workers and machines of large corporations who by no accounts share our outlook, as they are often just following suggestions presented by spreadsheets of accounts that are intended to make shareholders happy. So even if our hearts are in the right place the processes that provide us with our necessities for life go unseen and unwittingly, through our consumption we inflict damage we would never willing wish to cause.

    Its the industrially complex structure of modern life and companies that cant be trusted to provide us with our daily bread that do the damage.

    That’s why small scale local visible and accountable production is needed, permaculture systems that provide a surplus to our needs which is available for birds and animals.
    Responsible waste management that does not pollute, but feeds. Is so much high-tec nonsense and plastic tat needed? get simple, get natural, get harmonious. And visibility is an important part – so we can truly make responsible decisions and not just be fenced off into the “human dirty zone” and leave the rest of nature to get on with itself. We would all be missing out. nature from us and us from nature. Although we may deny it like rebellious teenagers in a rage with our parents, we are still all her children and she loves us.

  • abinico warez

    Unless humans stop popping out babies there will be no solution.

  • dimitri

    I’m going to throw in the towel on this one. If I only had a towel to throw in.

  • loretta land

    On the face of it, and for the most part, we human beings are still at the Darwinian stage of evolution ‘the survival of the fittest’. In other words the paradigm of the primitive, un-awakened bullies. The present global crisis is urging us to further evolve into more spiritually aware beings of a higher conciousness. It looks as if this path to our further evolution cannot be second-guessed; hopefully, the path will reveal, as we career along it, that to which we are now blind.

  • The Omega Man

    Humans are a failed experiment. Throughout recorded history and before, Human societies have failed again and again. Non Elite citizenry, like hamsters on a exercise wheel, repeatedly allow the charming psychopaths and the bullying sociopaths to seize power and set the tone of destruction for each age of humanity.

    While this is being done, the ordinary people, the prey for elite leaders, mull about in abject apathy and stupidity, denying the obvious that is before them. Today, you have educated individuals who claim there is no need for population control, there is no need to curb harmful ocean practices, etc because it’s “all a lie perpetrated by the Evil corporations and governments”

    While, our Elite Rulers, the sadistic psycho-sociopaths, use the above as an excuse to maximize the dispensing of global suffering and misery, People forget that Demons “mix in truth with lies” so as to increase the odds of fooling the victim.

    Being doomed to constant and continual failure, Humankind must either be contained, or failing that, destroyed before the infestation can reach into deep space.

    This planet is doomed because of the Human Infestation. Many will be offended by my words, but the fact is that any alleged value or worth that Homo Sapiens have, it is the Humans that cheat themselves of it, by our actions. So why should We expect Sympathy from God or nature? Men and Women both have thrown it all away, and the children of Men and Women are raised to be even more thankless than their progenitors…

  • You are correct Jugh, we humans DO LACK the spirituality that is NEEDED to stop this assault on our planet!
    And yes the military structures are at the HELM of this degradation and destruction of the planet!
    Until we get rid of this killing MENTALITY, we don’t have a chance! That’s ALL the military is even good at! Time to EVOLVE BEYOND THE NEED FOR MILITARY’S!

  • Jugh

    BTW, I love your idea of letting rivers flow. It’s a beautiful idea, and is a metaphor for what is largely lacking in humanity and on Earth: healthy circulation of resources. Instead there are stoppages in the circulation – greed and poverty – which cause disease.

    I live in the west where they engineer where every drop of water flows – you find their steel and concrete in the deepest parts of the forest, redirecting every stream of water to reservoirs and from there to cities. It is what I can only call the glaring stupidity of man. Man is stupid – you must factor this into your thinking. We imagine ourselves so intelligent, but the cleverness of a monkey that can build a bomb and blow himself up is not intelligence.

  • Jugh

    Aren’t some things simply a lost cause? I don’t think you’re being realistic. You’re thinking in a vacuum, which is simply not productive.

    Your items imply a need for humans to live completely differently, spiritually and physically, from how they are now living, within a few decades. Not only that, but most humans have no real say in these matters – we are not part of the decision-making process anymore. So what is the point of all of this hot air? It’s too theoretical – just wishful thinking.

    I think the environment is going into the toilet by design – it is being engineered by whatever dark forces control the corporations and governments on this planet. This is not a case of changing a few minds. Real change must occur, and I see no indication that it will be nearly fast enough.

    I think the likely outcome will be a widespread failure of the ecosystem, causing a radical change in how humans live on this planet, with many simply dying. Easily, all could die – an extinction event for humans. And again, this outcome is being actively engineered, and has been for centuries.

    I suggest you leave your keyboard and go out and enjoy those forests while they last. They will die, as will most of this planet. It is already dying – runaway systemic failure. Even in the blink of an eye that is a human generation, one can see huge changes upon us.

    Humans have failed on this planet. They will die off and/or be enslaved. Huge environmental upheaval will occur. Any hopes for changing this were well in the past.

    If you must devote your energies to something, devote them to facing the truth and easing the tremendous upheaval that is coming. Make ready for refugees, food shortages, etc. Be practical and as compassionate as possible. But stop denying the inevitable – wake up.

    • Interesting comments, Jugh. I sometimes wonder what the world look like right now, already, if all those who have been devoted to the defense of the natural world had given up a long time ago. If you’re diagnosed with cancer, you can choose to make an effort to overcome it, or you can resign yourself to a slow death. There certainly is an element of environmental destruction that is coming from up high, by design, for example, geo-engineering and chemtrails, but for the most part the world is being destroyed by people to make a buck.

      • Jugh

        Charles, I understand where you’re coming from – what if everyone said ‘oh, it’s hopeless’ to everything? Yet there are also cases where people cling to corpses and don’t get on with their lives.

        > I sometimes wonder what the world look like right now, already, if all those who have been devoted to the defense of the natural world had given up a long time ago.

        What is happening may have happened more rapidly, and thus with less suffering than this slow decay. Drawing out the length of time a patient survives says nothing of the quality of life. Yet environmentally conscious people of the past may have extended some of the good times for us – true. That doesn’t mean our efforts will have the same effect now, in these days. There is simply a time to move forward. Otherwise you’re wasting what little time you have left on a fruitless endeavor – you’re in denial.

        > If you’re diagnosed with cancer, you can choose to make an effort to overcome it, or you can resign yourself to a slow death.

        Or you can come to terms with dying and approach it with courage. Maybe you will avoid chemotherapy torture as a result, choosing a more rapid or at least peaceful death. Death is not an enemy to be avoided at all costs – it’s part of nature. The hell you may create by trying to avoid it can be worse than accepting it and working with reality.

        For environmentalists today, the environment is one of a patient that is CTD (circling the drain, Hospice material). If you want to be effective, deal in reality. We have enough fools, especially of the clever academic type. Much of the natural world has been poisoned to death, including ourselves. Like many animals, we are facing imminent extinction, and there is little we can do to have any effect on this at all. We are ants living on a speck of star dust, a speck we don’t even control.

        I find denial a miserable place to live.

        At any rate, all of the problems you list would not exist were humans more spiritually evolved. So by all means continue to work on that. Our lives always go on, forever, so keep working.

        I think most resources now, however, are best spent on preparing for the coming storm, spiritually and physically, rather than acting surprised when a few million refugees need to leave Japan because they are being irradiated by their keepers again (as is happening now, as we speak).

        This is not a time for lofty ideas, it is a time for rolling up the sleeves and caring for people in every way possible, as we die. Yes, we’re there. About 80% of the people in the world already know this because they’re in it up to their necks and noses. What good are your intellectual curiosities doing them? Get real or get outside and simply enjoy the forest – it may be your last day on Earth.

      • Jugh

        As for people just trying to make a buck, that too is engineered, socially, as well as via what the system pays people to ‘do’.

        The solution of course is for people to do what is beneficial, regardless of how it affects them or what they are or are not paid by the Nazis. But now you are talking about a very highly evolved human being, not what we see today from the vast majority. Certainly not what we see from people making the big decisions. The idea billions of people will evolve to that point in a few decades, in time to repair damage which is already in a runaway state, is a dream of denial.

        The worst environmental offender are of course the standing and fighting militaries of the world. If you compare the CO2 emissions from them compared to everything else, you realize everything else being discussed regarding CO2 is a joke. So to end that damage, you must create world peace while you’re at it.

        Humans just haven’t evolved to a level where they will adapt to this crisis. Most will die. Those that survive will probably wish for death. In no case will the crisis, which is already underway, not something to be “averted”, be avoided.

        For too long humans have tried to change their environment – that’s how we got into this mess. Give it up. It’s time to adapt to your environment.

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