Last month, the Canadian Federal government shared their fiscal economic snapshot, in which they expected to hit a $343 billion deficit by the end of this year as a result of Covid-19 impacts and recovery efforts. With financial struggles and debt looming over society, it is only reasonable to expect some expenditures will be cut and taxes will be raised. At least that’s been the textbook response from most governments to these types of fiscal crises in the past.
Unfortunately, the environmental sector is often one of the first to suffer from budget cuts during times of adversity. At first, this makes sense. Many individuals are currently experiencing financial hardship, struggling to pay for food, find affordable housing, or even afford basic necessities. How do we justify diverting governmental funds towards environmental protection at a time like this?
Here’s the catch. Responding to the economic impact of the Covid-19 virus should not deter us from still having a nature-friendly budget. In fact, it is through protecting nature that we will safeguard our communities for the future.
Megan Leslie, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada, believes now is the perfect time to be investing in nature.
“Humans are encroaching on the natural world more and more everyday,” Leslie told Alternatives Journal, “We destroy habitats for farmland, for our growing cities, we cut down forests, we drain those mangroves, we dig up those wetlands – we are increasing the opportunity for that contact between humans, livestock and wildlife.”
In the last 60 years alone, the number of new infectious diseases has quadrupled – 70% of these emerging diseases originate from wildlife. By investing in habitat preservation, we are reducing this risk and the opportunity for zoonotic diseases to spread to the human population in the future.
“Also, investing in nature helps with climate change,” Leslie continued, “So, at WWF Canada, we believe we could meet a third of our Paris greenhouse gas targets through the restoration of nature. How? Well the destruction of nature is responsible for a third of our greenhouse gas emissions globally. So, number one, we need to map out in Canada where are the richest stores of carbon, where are those peat bogs, wetlands, that eelgrass that has captured the carbon and let’s make sure we protect it. Right now, we do not have any protection for carbon stores. That is just not on the radar of any provincial, federal of territorial government.”
“Right now, we don’t have any protection for carbon stores. That is just not on the radar of any provincial, federal of territorial government” -Megan Leslie, President and CEO of WWF Canada
As governments are currently focussing on an economic recovery, if this recovery doesn’t include nature, it will ultimately be more expensive down the road. According to the World Economic Forum, “over half of the global GDP, $44 trillion, is potentially threatened by nature loss.” Pollinators for example, are vital to healthy crops and our agricultural sector. An irrevocable species decline would threaten our global crop supply and it’s annual market value of between $235 billion and $577 billion.
Hopeful for an environmentally-just recovery, WWF Canada has been advocating for A New Deal for Nature and People. The deal would urge governments to consider a “one health” approach when making policy decisions. This means considering the consequences of their decisions on the health of not just humans, but the natural environment and wildlife as well.
Finally, investing in nature now helps us be resilient and better adapt for the future. Leslie explained, “If you think about the increasing floods we are seeing for example, concrete culverts and breakwaters can only handle so much water. Silver maple can absorb 220 litres of water [an hour]! If we replace all this concrete with natural infrastructure, with green infrastructure, first of all, it can handle the floods. Secondly, it’s resilient… it bounces back”
Trees, wetlands, and other green infrastructure can act as stormwater traps and slow groundwater and surface flow during flooding events. SOURCE: FreshWaterBlog
It is through saving nature that we will save ourselves.
Ultimately, how we chose to move forward and recover economically from Covid-19 is up to us. “We have seen these stories about nature coming back during the pandemic,” Leslie says, “We know that pollution is down, the air is cleaner, we know the greenhouse gases are lower because of the pandemic. It’s like this beautiful gift we have been given to look into a crystal ball and see the future, but it’s not a guaranteed future, it’s a future we have to choose.”
While we may not know exactly what started the Covid-19 pandemic, many zoonotic diseases like Covid-19 begin because we cut down species habitats. How we decide to interact with the natural world has catastrophic consequences. Leslie believes resetting our balance with nature will require rebuilding our personal connections with the natural world- in other words, spend time outside!
The environment is one of the first things that should be funded right now, not cut. It is through saving nature that we will save ourselves. As Megan Leslie says, “if wildlife is thriving, I believe the people will thrive.”
Check out Alternatives Journal next issue, Getting There: The Ecosystem of Human Movement, for the full interview with Megan Leslie.