Since attending the World Conference on Ecological Restoration existed, I cannot see life in the same way. With the daunting climate challenges we are facing, it shocks me how little most of us know about such an important aspect of our survival.
To me, ecological restoration was a foreign term used solely by conservationists and concerning only the environment. This interpretation has probably spread as a result of our increasingly urban, industrialized lifestyles. Finding ourselves entirely disconnected from nature, people often aren’t aware of the harmful impacts our activities are having. Even as, in the past few years, the awareness of our negative impacts grows, many of us still lack a motivation to take part in the process of change. The effects of climate change do not reach our direct bubble of influence and so we are more willing to turn a blind eye to preserve our comfortable lifestyles. This is especially the case in developed areas where people receive everything they need from elsewhere, benefitting from carbon-emitting factories that darken not only our skies but our future. Yet, while we may not see the harms of our activities, we are the ones creating the most damage. Luckily, ecological restoration can help us restore a balance on Earth.
Social aspects of ecological restoration crucial
What became clear to me throughout the conference was the important social aspect of ecological restoration. Many people see this process as a burden they do not want to take on; a task that would steer them away from their priorities and make their lives harder. In some cases, these concerns were valid. A striking presentation by Stellenbosch academic Leanne Seeliger discussed this issue in a South African context: The Cape Flats. While this area is known for its high crime rates and gang violence, few people are aware of the increasing degradation of the aquafer below them. It is only natural for people of such communities to disregard environmental issues as ‘elitist’ seeing that they already struggle with so many other social issues.
Unfortunately, the social issues will only worsen as the ecosystems around us degrade. Ecological restoration may not be everyone’s priority in the short-term, but our survival depends on it in the long-term. Over a couple of hundreds of years, Earth would be able to adapt and create a new ecological system. The issue is that that system would not be suitable for the species alive right now – including humans. We need to bring ecosystems back to their previous states (or as close to that as possible) for the benefits those environments provide us. With the help of forests, we can breathe. With the help of wetlands, we can drink… the list goes on!
Change is a must to survive
Although it may be more challenging for some, we must accept the fact that our current lifestyles have to change if we want to outlive the effects of climate change. We are producing, consuming and wasting too much for the Earth to support. Of course, reconstructing society is much easier said than done. For everyone to make the necessary changes, we first need to rediscover our ecological identity. This doesn’t mean that everyone must suddenly flip their worlds upside down and set out on a life-long urban cleanse, but it does mean that people need to find ways to go outside and participate in environmental projects. Once we recreate our bond with nature, change will happen much faster and more people will understand why they need to modify their habits.
Presenters at the conference often found that, after a short while, people were more than happy to help in restoration projects. For example, the Tsitsa Project at the Olifant River began by bringing members of the community to the river and teaching them about its history. Through the process of experiencing the land, they began to “reflect on their own practices.” After that, they longed to help restoring the river to its previous state.
No quick in, quick out
What the conference highlighted was the importance of communication and respect in this process. As Seeliger accentuated, there is “no quick in, quick out”. This means that, to succeed, we need everyone on board. All the different groups involved have to take each other’s values and priorities into consideration before we can construct an effective plan. This approach was explained in the situation at the Cape Flats Aquifer was using “ethics methodology to frame the problem.” In simpler terms, we first have to learn about people’s guiding principles before we are able engage with them productively. After that, we can integrate the needs of our ecosystems and give support to those that will struggle during the restoration process.
I do not see this engagement as a misfortune but as a great opportunity. We have such rich cultures in South Africa, filled with innovative ideas. This is the perfect occasion to uplift smaller businesses and create a platform for people from different backgrounds to unite and thrive alongside nature. When everyone is planting seeds or collecting plastic from wetlands, people will be working on the same projects together. In this way, many more people will make a living while living harmoniously with the greater community.
Know the facts first
To generate this type of action, our community first needs to become aware of the facts. Experts have known the importance of ecological restoration and the degradation humans are causing for a while. Despite that, the knowledge has not spread from undiscussed Climate Summits and scientific conferences. This issue highlights the importance of news sites such as the Green Times so that the public is able to receive this necessary information. Everybody should be learning about the emerging solutions—without this awareness, we cannot expect any form of progress.
Ecological Restoration is a wonderful way to reconnect people to nature while participating in the solution. As Paddy Woodworth, journalist and author of Our Once and Future Planet expresses, “It gives each one of us, of whatever age, a real opportunity to engage in actions in our immediate environment that make a real, visible difference”. After events such as tree-planting festivals and beach cleanups, people really see the beauty of nature and reflect on their actions. In Cape Town, there are many organizations that offer fun activities open to the public, such as Sea The Bigger Picture’s beach cleanups or Cape Nature’s alien-tree hacking events. Once we start working with the environment again, more people will start appreciating our environment and willingly make the necessary changes. We have no more excuses—the answer is in our hands.
By Noa Brawermann
Noa is sixteen years old and a proud member of the African Climate Alliance. She has had the privilege of experiencing the beauties of nature and is now determined to save it.