Last June, a knee-jerk resolution — passed without debate by the Socorro County Commission — disappointed me. Displaying total ignorance of a fresh, unique global effort to, in short, “rescue Nature,” the Commission’s non-binding Resolution of disapproval was unanimous. Our elected representatives did not spend one quick minute inquiring “Why?” Why did our governor and the U.S. president join this urgent international project earlier last year? Instead, the Commission’s stubborn ill-will toward a well-researched attempt at real-world solutions to a staggering biological crisis was downright embarrassing.
What’s the Matter?
A significant segment of both America’s and the world’s populace are coming to terms with the scientific reality that one-third to one-half of all species on Earth will go extinct by the end of this century IF we continue accelerating both their habitat loss and the human-caused warming of our world. We are arriving at the critical realization that the other species with which we share this planet, in an intricately-woven web of life, literally make this rare world habitable for us and our hoped-for descendants.
Every indicator says we are teetering on the brink of a mass-extinction crisis. Yet, with our constantly expanding knowledge and understanding, we realize that the very worst of this dire trajectory can be avoided – but only if we act NOW. Populations of vertebrate species overall have declined, on average, 70 percent over the last 50 short years. Animals we have coexisted with for many thousands of years are dying off or thinning out to unsustainable numbers.
The chief reasons for this great biological decline have also come increasingly into focus: 1) habitat destruction, largely by urban/suburban sprawl; next, through over-extracting natural resources (think clear-cutting forests or mountaintop-removal coal mining); and finally, via industrial-scale, synthetic chemicals-dependent agriculture; 2) over-utilization, meaning humans consume and waste more food and water than the Earth can replenish (example: careless bottom-trawlers devastating non-targeted fish stocks); 3) pollution from toxic chemicals, rampant almost everywhere; and finally, 4) steadily increasing climatic chaos caused by the overall warming of Earth’s biosphere via ‘greenhouse’ gases that remain trapped in the atmosphere, largely after the extraction and massive burning of fossilized carbon fuels.
What Can Be Done?
President Biden announced a year ago that his administration was joining the global “30×30 Initiative” — a science-inspired focus on preserving thirty percent of Earth’s remaining unprotected (but relatively unspoiled) natural landscapes and oceans by the year 2030 — thus, “30% by 2030” in longhand.
This past August, Governor Lujan-Grisham followed suit, issuing a directive to the key New Mexico departments of Agriculture, Energy/Minerals & Natural Resources, Environment, Game & Fish, Indian Affairs, plus the State Engineer (concerned with water). The governor’s order requires these divisions to consult with local communities, and seek input from the owners/managers of “working lands” (read: ranchers and farmers), outdoor recreationists, activists and sovereign tribes.
The governor has directed state agencies under her administration to “conserve, protect, enhance and restore (where needed) the health of New Mexico’s land and waters.” The departments are asked to meet quarterly to share each other’s challenges and successes, then formally update Lujan-Grisham on 30×30’s progress through annual reports.
The 30×30 initiative expressly does NOT aim to “take more land away from ranchers,” as our County Commission apparently feared. On the contrary: the Guv insists that her administrative divisions “coordinate with stakeholders” first and always, and then leverage increasingly-available funding (fingers crossed) to powerfully effect the conservation and enhancement of New Mexico’s unique natural lands and waters, plus the species living upon them.
The Governor’s executive directive goes on to require that the above-named state divisions: 1) honor New Mexico’s “traditional land uses”; 2) promote biodiversity, ensuring as many native species as possible increase in numbers and thrive here; 3) expand and encourage outdoors recreation wherever appropriate; and finally, 4) protect our watersheds and enhance them wherever possible. And that’s exactly the preservation called for worldwide by 30×30’s urgency.
Socorro’s local, legendary non-profit, Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust, finds the 30×30 effort right up their alley (or valley!), holding promise of “conservation funding to help private landowners — many of whom have been stewarding agricultural lands for generations — to meet their conservation goals.” RGALT welcomes 30×30 in light of its “collaborative approaches, supporting the voluntary conservation efforts of farmers, ranchers and fishers, while honoring Tribal sovereignty and private property rights.”
A Forest for the Trees
A formidable example of the Biodiversity Crisis is found in a recent publication by European scientists (during North America’s holocaust of wildfires last summer, by the way). The research indicates that half of all Earth’s tree species may face extinction by the century’s end.
This gets personal: two average, mature North American trees produce enough oxygen for one human to breathe for a full year. Forests capture and store nearly 15 percent of U.S. carbon emissions annually. Our forests produce and provide almost 60 percent of America’s drinking water. And annually, U.S. trees absorb and sequester 17.4 million tons of air, soil and water pollutants.
Reforestation will be necessary following mega-fires and climate-caused disease wipeouts. 64 million acres could be reforested by forestry nurseries if their production only slightly more than doubles. The goal is that by 2040, newly-planted forests, relocated upslope and/or farther north than today’s threatened, drying sylvan regions, will store 160 million metric tons of CO2 annually. Research is being done to identify and grow-out the genetically feasible and appropriate seedstocks.
And as for the Oceans
Approximately half of the planet’s coral reefs are already lost, largely through warming waters and exercises of warfare. But, “a suite of innovative conservation strategies” is evolving to address that loss. Over the past three years, delegates to the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity have been negotiating a treaty for the conservation of marine species — beyond national jurisdictions. Yes, international consensus is possible!
The world’s oceans are precisely where the 30×30 Initiative goes global. At this point in 2022, 18 percent of land and watercourses worldwide are already under some form of protective status. But only seven percent of the planet’s oceans are. Carbon is stored on the seafloor. And bottom-trawling, aside from its indiscriminate by-catch and destruction of non-targeted ocean life, drags up and releases over a gigaton of CO2 into Earth’s atmosphere annually. If just 3.6 percent more of the world’s oceans were protected from trawling in just the right places, 90 percent of trawling’s deadly carbon release could be avoided.
Summing It Up
The scientists and policy-makers estimate that, beyond what the international community is budgeting and spending now, an increase of $600 billion USD more per year will be needed to stave off the collapse of Earth’s natural systems. (Keep it in perspective: the U.S. military budget topped $700 billion this year.)
But the County Commissioners neither invited nor held a thoughtful discussion on “30×30” — its pros or cons — in weighing their “Nay” resolution. Pity. In the face of an even possible mass-extinction crisis, mankind’s fond goodwill toward our Home, Sweet Home is indeed needed — right now.
Sources: American Forests, Doctors Without Borders, Earth Justice, Eos.org, The Guardian, Nature Conservancy, Office of the Governor, Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust