A new New York Times headline offers what might best sum up the biodiversity crisis: “Animals Are Running Out of Place to Live.” The world has lost half of its natural ecosystems, and wildlife populations have declined by an average of 68% since 1970. Why? As the Times article so accurately put it, “Human beings are taking over much of the planet, wiping out what was there before.”
Although the United Nations Conference on Biological Diversity and the resulting global agreement to restore and protect 30% of the world’s land and ocean ecosystems by 2030 (known as “30×30”) are welcome steps forward, the general response has been “fingers crossed”. When it comes to international treaties on pressing environmental concerns, including the former Global Biodiversity Convention, our species has an amazing record of not following through.
The good news is that we don’t have to wait and hope that other countries – or even our own government – will take action. Each of us, by virtue of being one of the 8 billion people on the planet, is partly responsible for occupying space previously occupied by other animals, and each of us can have a role in restoring the ecosystem.
Many environmental groups, university think tanks, summit reports, and members of Generation Z sound like the same broken record, but what they say is true: The number one thing any of us can do to stop the destruction of the planet and save endangered species is to move away from animal farming.
A UN-supported report from think tank Chatham House found that animal agriculture is the number one threat to 86% of the 28,000 species at risk of extinction. Raising animals and growing crops to feed them requires huge amounts of land and produces a relatively small amount of calories consumed. This unsustainable practice fuels not only world hunger, but also the destruction of ecosystems in the Amazon, Himalayas, Congo Basin, Cerrado, and other vulnerable places around the world. Eating plants directly, rather than feeding them to animals and then killing those animals for their meat, will allow us to re-wildlife a large part of that land, giving us a chance to meet the UN’s “30 by 30” goal. By embracing plant-based foods instead of meat, eggs and dairy, we can feed our growing masses while leaving room for the rest of the Earth’s population.
In addition to taking over natural habitats for farming, humans are destroying more and more animal habitats in order to build our own, so another vital thing each of us can do for wildlife stems from a lesson we learned as young children: share. Sure, most of us don’t want to convert our storerooms or attics into Chez Petit Animale, but they don’t want us to convert their woodland homes into subdivisions, either. As we force animals to compete for fewer and fewer resources, they may try to find food or protection within our dwellings. When that happens, the least we can do – rather than subject them to an agonizing death in glue or poison traps – is to use live traps, humanely escort them out and then seal off their potential entry points in order to prevent future encounters.
And we can make it easier for them to survive abroad. Replacing hard-to-maintain grass areas with native plants and trees provides food sources and habitat. Using earth-friendly lawn care methods keeps dangerous chemicals out of the soil, water, and plants that animals depend on. Keeping litter in airtight containers prevents wildlife from tripping over it or getting injured. We can easily help turtles cross the road and report injured animals to humanitarian officials or wildlife rehabilitators. We can be more understanding when birds scurry to their nests and geese honk, or when deer nibble at some flowers, or when mice nibble a few bites in our gardens. For every perceived conflict with wildlife, there is a humane solution.
Nobody wants a world without wildlife. And if we take action now, we won’t have to live in one.
Michelle Reynolds is a wildlife research specialist for PETA. Learn more through PETA.org.