The COVID-19 pandemic has put many businesses into financial stress, but experts say this is not the greatest threat to world economies in the coming years. Ecosystems are at the basis of our economy and they are deteriorating at a fast pace. If governments want to build back a strong economy that can thrive for decades to come, nature should not be left behind. Conserving and restoring the ecosystems that sustain us needs to be an important part of the plan.
Ecosystems and the economy
Ecosystems provide the most basic elements humans need to create wealth: water, soil, food, fuel, medicine, recreation, building materials, breathable air and weather regulation. From forestry, agriculture and tourism to manufacturing, real estate and banking, all sectors of the economy depend directly or indirectly on functioning ecosystems.
Ecosystems are composed of living and non-living things connected in a complex web of relationships. The variety of living things (biodiversity) is diminishing at an alarming rate with about a million species facing extinction. Pollution, resource exploitation, land conversion, climate change and invasive species are behind this alarming trend.
As a result, ecosystem webs are weakening. In numbers, 75% of the land environments have been severely altered by humans and 30% have lost their ecological integrity (in other words: they are in very bad shape). Scientists report a decline in nearly all ecosystem services globally when compared to their levels in 1970. Nature’s capacity to provide for all living things is diminishing, while human population and consumption continues to grow.
Destroying nature is bad for business
Humans are, quite literally, eroding the foundations of our own life and economy. A global economic study found that the top economic risks for the next decade by likelihood and impact are all environmental. Climate change and biodiversity loss are heading the threat list, ranking higher than socio-political instability, infectious diseases, cyberattacks, and weapons of mass destruction.
Economists have realized destroying nature is very bad for business. The World Economic Forum, one of the most prominent international organizations for public-private cooperation in economic matters, explains:
“As nature continues to deteriorate, businesses progressively run more risk. This risk is not only reputational and legal – as more consumers and governments become aware of and act on nature loss. It is also operational and financial – as direct inputs disappear and ecosystem services, on which businesses depend, stop functioning.”
Increased economic risks also arise from the negative impacts of environmental degradation on society. Pollution, desertification, severe weather events, and water scarcity can lead to health crises, poverty, conflict and migration – an adverse environment for most businesses.
Caring for the environment builds a better economy
On the other hand, experts believe putting ecosystems higher on the agenda will lead to major business opportunities and a more resilient society. The economic benefits of restoring and conserving our natural environment far outweigh the costs and can create millions of jobs and trillions in economic opportunities worldwide.
The future of business is green or “nature positive”, in the words of economists. As we seek to recover our economy from the recession caused by a global pandemic, their advice is to take this opportunity to get ahead of the curve.
If we want an economy that can thrive in the long term, we need a recovery package that stops biodiversity loss and moves us to carbon-neutrality (allowing the planet to absorb as much carbon pollution as we emit) within the next decade.
Taking action in the Kootenays
Wildsight and a number of other environmental, wildlife, tourism, and agriculture-focused organizations approached the provincial government in recent months to push for an economic recovery that invests in ecosystems.
Collectively, we presented a series of shovel-ready projects around the Kootenays that will restore critical habitat for endangered species affected by human activity, climate change and wildfires. These actions will create jobs (mostly for unemployed or under-employed forestry workers and youth) and benefit economic activities like tourism, forestry, wildlife clubs and ranchers.
Water may seem endless in the Kootenay-Columbia region, however humans have disrupted watershed ecosystems and the water cycle in ways that can compromise our future needs. Dams, forestry, mining, roads, and settlements are stressing the health of our waterways. Climate change impacts are changing rain, snowfall and evaporation patterns and melting glaciers.
In response to this growing need to protect, restore and better manage our watersheds, Living Lakes Canada is facilitating the development of the Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Collaborative and associated Columbia Basin Water Hub open source database. A coordinated effort to unite communities, First Nations, and the private sector, the Collaborative aims to make critical water data readily available for decision making around fresh water supply.
The Adaptation and Climate Change Team (ACT) at Simon Fraser University is working with local governments to find ways to use our natural assets to adapt our communities to climate change. Natural assets include water bodies, forests and grasslands, urban trees and green spaces.
For cities, conserving natural assets is proving to be more cost-effective and sustainable than building new infrastructure to replace their services. They provide social benefits of great economic value too. Nelson and Revelstoke are working with ACT to apply this approach to climate adaptation.
These are the types of projects our governments should invest in to bring about a sustainable recovery. We need many more of these initiatives to ensure the ecosystems that support our economy and livelihood can continue to do so in the future.
Your voice matters!
Through the past months, thousands of people across BC and Canada have been advocating for an economic recovery package that puts human and nature’s wellbeing at the centre.
You can be part of this movement! Check out the national Just Recovery for All campaign, endorsed by Wildsight and hundreds of Canadian organizations, and sign the petition to the liberal government here.
We need nature to thrive. The only way to a healthy economy that provides for our families and communities for decades ahead is protecting and recovering the ecosystems that sustain it.
Use your voice to make it happen.