This was the theme of today’s panel-public discussion in Old Government Buildings at Victoria University. It was chaired by Kathryn Ryan – host of Radio New Zealand’s Nine-to-noon.
Panelists were asked to provide an opening statement that answered the above questions (text box) and described their position.
Here is mine.
In 2100 people will be an important and unavoidable parts of all ecosystems.
We will be routinely genetically modifying old biodiversity, breeding new species and designing and constructing new ecosystems. We will be doing that on this planet and starting to do it on moons and other planets too.
Farmers, doctors and conservationists, to name a few, will be doing this to manage a global environment that is different and changing. The earth’s ecosystems and their biodiversity will be changed at all scales – from their genes to biomes. Nothing original and pure will remain to be restored.
Before you feel like this is a dystopian vision of environmental apocalypse, I need to tell you that I don’t see it that way – at least not about wildlife biodiversity.
Our biodiversity and its management will be much improved by 2100.
The greatest improvements in NZ’s biodiversity will have occurred in the peopled landscapes that are two-thirds of our land area. Today’s urban and rural landscapes will seem like biodiversity deserts to my great-grandchildren. Instead, they will grow up in urban and rural landscapes that are managed to reconcile biodiversity with other human values. By achieving this, NZ’s native biodiversity will have ceased to decline and will be in recovery. Our peopled landscapes will no longer be regarded as impacted but as highly prised novel ecosystems for biodiversity.
There will also be reserved landscapes where the ecosystems include mostly original biodiversity. But they will be ecosystems functioning very differently under new environmental regimes, beginning with the changes in climate. They will include native wildlife that have been necessarily modified to adapt them to new challenges and also exotic species fulfilling important functions. Thus, reserved landscapes will also be novel ecosystems with novel communities of biodiversity.
Globalising Aotearoa’s biodiversity
By 2100 we will also have exported our native biodiversity to the rest of the world. Tuatara on islands off warming Antarctica? Kokako in Madagascar? Giant weta in Chile? Kiwi in New Guinea? This will make sure that their persistence no longer depends only on us (risk reduction), and they will have been welcomed in many other nations where they contribute to other new, more resilient ecosystems. There will be a culture supporting global partnerships for biodiversity instead of the culture of biodiversity parochialism, nationalism and nativism that limits us today.
Novel ecosystems everywhere
All ecosystems will be novel because changes will be forced on us that are not reversible. They will also be novel because we will make them that way to cope in the changed planet. But it should also be this way because the novel ecosystems and their biodiversity will be designed pragmatically to serve the diversity of human interests and values better.
Biodiversity from political and social diversity
In the future, biodiversity conservation will depend much less on the fraught idealism of a minority elite who have focused only on wildlife preservation and restoration.
Other people, not conservationists, will most decide the future of biodiversity. That has always been true and it will continue to be true in our western democracy. To make greater progress, therefore, conservationists must build an agenda that serves a greater number and diversity of people and that makes biodiversity a greater part of peoples’ lives.
Any plans for the future that do not recognise people and their growing part in ecosystem structure and functioning are fatally flawed.
Any plans for the future that do not grow the diversity of perspectives and values that contribute to biodiversity conservation are politically indefensible.
Biodiversity reconciliation accommodates people, it is inevitable, and it is better.
Zealandia is a reconciliation project
I want to leave you with this thought: Zealandia is described as a restoration project. Actually it is a reconciliation project. Zealandia is adding more nature to a human-dominated environment. A novel ecosystem with a mixed community of exotic and native species is being managed intensively using advanced technologies to satisfy human values and current environmental fashions. It is a project to reconcile nature with people. That doesn’t make it less good than a pure, original ecosystem with only native species. Instead, it makes it better for today’s world where people dominate.