Caring About Nature is… Depressing

I’m reposting this blog because this topic has recently been a recurring discussion in my field and I know professionals that want to do something about it! Email me to find out more.

Original post: Caring About Nature is… Depressing.

DECEMBER 8, 2014

Caring About Nature is… Depressing

In reading reviews submitted by students in the Field Ecology course I teach, it is humbling yet somewhat euphoric to discover how much they enjoy the class and their instructor. One remark oft-repeated is how they appreciate my enthusiasm for the material. Motivating students has to be a top priority for any teacher and the best way to do that is to have passion for your work. But some days (even weeks) can be so difficult, at least for me. Perhaps I’ve become too connected to the natural world? Its “pain” becomes my pain.

Oil Sands mining at Ft. McMurray, Alberta (Associated Press)

In isolation, watching only the “wild” beings, there is such wisdom imparted. I hesitate to put the human good/bad spin on Nature, but even in the most “difficult” moments, like predation, enormous sagacity is imparted as we gain understanding of the processes at play. These important perspectives have allowed me to abandon many fears, particularly that of death, because Nature clearly demonstrates all is cyclical – nothing ends, it simply changes form.

However, one of the most significant lessons Nature shares is, for me, the most burdensome to internalize – living in the moment. All the wild creatures have this innate skill. Even the most socialized recognize and experience grief but, at the same time, let go of it enough to continue on. Elephants are an excellent example of this behavior. But the continual exposure to humankind’s assault on Nature and the inevitable helplessness one can experience in combating the onslaught often can be overwhelming. Concern about the future of the planet and all its wild inhabitants is inevitable for those of us who live in close relationship with the natural world.

Consider these headlines from just the past year:

“Snipers” in Britain Target Fox
Most Americans Support Keystone Pipeline
Bill to Force Intelligent Design Instruction
Governor Devotes $2 Million to Kill 500 Wolves
Invertebrate Species Populations Plummet
Wildlife Devastated by Sudanese War

Photo courtesy of Missouri Dept. of Conservation

Ugh… But one must trudge on, particularly with students who look up to you for guidance and knowledge.

So how does one cope with the seemingly endless parade of travesties perpetuated by humans? I’ve no firm answers other than to continue to practice a lifestyle as sustainable as possible (dietary choices are most profound), teach these concepts to all who will heed the message, and spend more time in Nature if for nothing else than its ability to heal. Also, distancing oneself from social media might be helpful, particularly those hot button issues where derogatory commentary from both the pro and con sides can be quite demoralizing.

Please feel free to share your coping mechanisms in the comments below. As the adage says, misery loves company!


How little do we know about Tropical Rainforests and the Threats to Forest Biodiversity?

A spate of studies highlighted both how little we know about tropical rainforests and the threats to forest biodiversity.  In May a report from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said that wildlife populations in the tropics have declined 61 percent over the past 40 years. The Living Planet Index tracks almost 10,000 populations of 2,688 vertebrate species in the tropics and temperate regions. The report was followed in July by a Nature study which found that half of assessed protected areas in the tropics suffered an “erosion of biodiversity” over the last 20-30 years.

Rainforest in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler ©
Rainforest in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler ©

In August, a study published in PLoS ONE documented large-scale die-off of mammal populations in long-ago isolated forest fragments in Brazil’s Mata Atlantica. Examining 18 mammal species across 196 forest fragments in the Atlantic Forest, the researchers found “unprecedented rates of local extinctions,” despite the fact that they purposefully visited the “most intact and best preserved” sites in the region. On average only about 4 target mammals were found out of 18 in each forest patch. The findings undercut assumptions made by the widely used theory of species-area relationships, which predicted that around 45-80 percent of the mammals would have remained. Worryingly even some large forest patches with intact canopies had been depleted of the target mammals.  In December, a comprehensive survey of arthropods in a rainforest in Panama found that 60-70 percent of tropical forest arthropods may be yet to be described by scientists.