Image Credit: Bernard Dupont, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped
The urgency behind the most recent IPCC report has thankfully garnered it a lot of attention worldwide*. It’s a report that was very frank in its desperation for people to take this threat as seriously as possible. Yet both this report and the one that hit us in February also made mention of one other key factor that has been swept under the rug – the ability of functioning ecosystems to both mediate and mitigate the impact of climate change.
Alongside a wealth of other benefits we gain from biodiversity, ecosystems play vital roles in helping us withstand the rigours of climate change. Wetlands and rivers protect us from increased flooding. Forests help mitigate extreme heat waves. Peatlands, mires, and permafrost are all crucial carbon sinks. Yet as species disappear, these ecosystems deteriorate, as pieces of the complicated web that they’re made up of disappear. It’s why the concept of mass extinction is so frightening.
But what is mass extinction? We often hear about the concept of a mass extinction, and the question of whether we’re currently in the sixth mass extinction is constantly thrown around. So let’s have a quick look at exactly what extinction itself means, what a mass extinction is, and why it’s increasingly obvious that we’re in one.
I’m generally not one for retrospectives. And in 2019, that feels like an advantage, considering how much of the world caught fire and how many backwards steps were taken regarding environmental policy.
But to take a more positive look back at the last 12 months, we at Ecology for the Masses have gotten to speak to some pretty inspiring people. One of the best aspects of running this website is that we’re able to sit down on a regular basis and talk to some incredibly prominent and interesting ecologists, managers and even politicians and talk everything and anything about the world we live in and the creatures that inhabit it.
So here are my favourite quotes from the interviews we published in 2019. If you want more context, you can of course check out the full interview by clicking on the names.
Image Credit: James Wheeler, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped
Last week, my colleague Stefan Vriend had published an article explaining the concept of the Anthropocene – the proposed name for the epoch that started when humans had a noticable impact on the earth’s geology. Two days beforehand, an article appeared in the Atlantic proclaiming that the Anthropocene was a joke. The basic tenet of the article was that because our impact on the planet has taken place over such a short period of time, the fact that we’ve seen fit to name a new geological epoch (the Anthropocene) after the short timespan that we’ve been wreaking havoc on the planet is incredibly self-centred and arrogant.
Dag Hessen (second from right) believes that the teaching of ecology needs to move forward, better integrating our impact on the planet (Image Credit: paal @flickr, Image cropped, CC BY 2.0)
Teaching ecology has taken up a large chunk of my year. I love doing it, and I thoroughly enjoy seeing students becoming engaged in new concepts. But the way we teach ecology can often be quite static, with too little emphasis on how our ecosystems are changing, and how we can communicate this to a world thoroughly in need of more scientific understanding.
One person working to change how we teach ecology is Dag Hessen. I spoke to Dag earlier this year about communicating science to children through literature, which you can read more on here. But during the discussion we got sidetracked and went in-depth on how the teaching of ecology needs to change.
CSIRO scientist Éva Plagányi, who has worked with researchers from social and economic backgrounds to better understand human impacts on ecology (Image Credit: CSIRO, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)
At the end of the day, the aim of an ecologist is to generate a better understanding of the natural world around us. But that can amount to nothing if that understanding isn’t translated to the people who interact directly with the aspects of the natural world that we research. So whilst understanding an ecosystem should be our main priority, understanding the people who interact with an ecosystem is integral to making a difference.
This is where social sciences like anthropology can help. At the ASFB 2018 Conference, I spoke to plenary speaker CSIRO’s Dr. Éva Plagányi, who works on maintaining the sustainability of marine life. Éva’s work includes interaction with everyone from corporate businessmen to traditional fishers, and integrating social anthropology into her work has yielded great results. I spoke to Éva on the importance of incorporating social science into ecology.