Sciensano (Belgian Scientific Institute of Health) / Ecology, conservation biology and human health
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I have studied forests and agro-ecosystems on four different continents to understand how human activities and environmental change affect biodiversity, ecosystems, and human health and wellbeing. I consistently see that human activities, even in environmentally certified agroforests, cause important species losses, degradation of ecosystem structure and microclimate and environmental pollution. The impact of human activities on ecosystems is difficult to reverse. Restoring ecosystems is challenging and requires large and long-term efforts. Environmental change is developing into irreversible environmental breakdown. We have, for far too long, tried to adapt our ecosystems to human impacts: we tried to create ‘robust’ nature, climate-change resilient ecosystems. What we actually need is to reduce our impact on ecosystems so that nature can be nature and does not to be made resilient. Reducing our need for land and our emissions related to our diet, consumption patterns, modes of transport and lifestyle is essential.
In our family, we limit meat and diary consumption. We produce and consume home-grown vegetables. We go to school on foot. I use my bike and the train to go to work. We avoid buying plastic products produced in far-away countries. We have 100% green electricity. We do sports that do not require infrastructure that replace open space or nature. We participate in citizen science projects that measure the quality of our environment. I contribute to the sustainable management of our local public forest. We support nature organizations. We support the environmental awareness of our daughter.
We realize that we can make these choices because we can. Many families may not be in a situation where they are free to choose the most environmentally-friendly option. If we want to reduce our ecological footprint as a society, a priority would be to resolve social inequalities. Greening our cities so that everybody has access to high quality green spaces would be a good start.