Climate and biodiversity: two birds of the same feather
“You are ahead of your time!” declares my mother as she shares with me news that climate change will now be taught in schools. This statement, however, says more about human complacency and perceived risk than it does about anything else.
After all, scientists observed climate change as early as the 19th century. A hundred years later, around the same time as I was born, news headlines started trumpeting that man-made climate change may actually be bad for us. At first, mentions of ‘greenhouse gases’ and ‘global warming’ sounded like the subject was just the smoke you see coming from your chimney or exhaust pipe. Then we came to learn that these gases staying in the atmosphere trapping heat meant the planet was ‘warming up like a greenhouse’. Then came ‘climate change’, and only now do we dare speak of the ‘climate crisis’ – and the twin ‘biodiversity crisis’ that comes with it.
Human consumption, our economy, and the land we clear, build on and cultivate, is increasing globally. At the same time, nature and wilderness are decreasing. Even though to an individual the Earth seems impossibly large, most people are beginning to understand that the more we take from it, the less there is left. In the case of plants and trees, the faster we take them away, the less time they have to grow back. Nevertheless, the connection between the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis is the point where most get lost.
In late March, the European Commission will be publishing its biodiversity strategy. This will be a defining moment for the future of our natural world – and it’s imperative for serious climate action to be part of it. The reason is simple: biodiversity is full of carbon. The more carbon is kept within biodiversity, the less is thrown out into the atmosphere. Simply put, protecting and restoring nature = fighting the climate crisis.
The EU desperately needs strong, enforced legislation and adequate funds to protect and restore nature – for biodiversity and the climate.
My main work area is not birds, but bioenergy (burning trees for energy): a topic that should make as much noise as a feeding ground of gulls, and like bird migration, the consequences are far reaching. Nevertheless, burning biomass for energy is a great illustration of this complex situation.
Many people burn biomass daily every time they put a log of wood on the fire. This remains a necessity for heat in many parts of the world, but the idea that it’s fine because trees just grow back is not true.
In reality, biomass is a compound word of biological, meaning living, and mass which is the build-up of something, in this case, carbon. Burning living mass means carbon is no longer building-up and being stored in nature, but polluting the atmosphere. The trees may grow back - but as they keep getting cut and their stored carbon released, the birds, insects and animals that used to call the forest home are not returning.
To protect biodiversity also means to keep carbon within nature – and not eject it into the atmosphere where it changes the climate. We’re in a climate and biodiversity emergency: the EU must act accordingly.