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This week on Nature League, Brit Garner breaks down the recent United Nations report on the state of nature across the globe and offers suggestions for what we can do. Get your Critically Endangered Sharks poster here! Only on sale through May 30th.

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Nature League is a weekly edutainment channel that explores life on Earth and asks questions that inspire us to marvel at all things wild. Join host Brit Garner each week to learn about, connect to, and love the amazing living systems on Earth and the mechanics that drive them.
Welcome back to Nature League!

One of the ways that I try to think and feel about life on Earth is through the lens of current events and news reports. Something as simple as looking at trends for key search terms online can give me an idea of the way that stories and themes are being reported.

And let's be honest. The vast majority of current events about nature are... upsetting. Like... big time bummers.

And it's easy to get really dismayed and feel helpless about what we're seeing, which can leave me wondering what I can do. Understanding the best research and current data about these topics is one way that I find a little bit of peace amid all of the noise, and so I wanted to take some time and break down a recent report on biodiversity with this in mind. That way, we can all know the facts as they currently stand and, more importantly, understand the steps we can take in our own lives to change these trajectories.

That's what a Nature League is for, right? [CHEERY INTRO MUSIC]. On May 6th, 2019, news outlets around the world were flooded with headlines like the following:. One million species at risk of extinction, UN report warns.

Nature's dangerous decline ‘unprecedented,' species extinction rates ‘accelerating.' Loss of biodiversity is just as catastrophic as climate change. Oof... that was definitely something to wake up to. But before we can go down the doomsday route, I think it's really important to understand exactly what is being reported by whom and and that understanding takes time, effort, and care.

There's too much on the line to gloss over details, and if we're going to talk about actions we can all take, which we will discuss, we have to know how those actions are connected to the best science we have so far. That's what this Global Assessment is, and it's worth knowing the report process and results in order to drive our own actions responsibly. So let's break it down.

First, who published the original report and what even is it? This one is a mouthful, but it's worth knowing it by its actual name instead of calling it, “that thing that said everything is dying and we're in big trouble.” The report is called the 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and it was published by an organization called the IPBES. That stands for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

If you follow general climate change news, you may have heard of the IPCC -- that's the. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It was created back in 1988 and serves as a sort of international governing body that processes the best scientific information available on climate change.

The IPBES is like that, but for biodiversity. It was established by member States in 2012 with the objective of strengthening “the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development.” There are currently 132 member Governments, and the work of the IPBES entails four main areas: assessments, policy support, building capacity and knowledge, and communications and outreach. The assessments area is where this current report falls.

So that's the IPBES. Now let's get to their 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Except first, let's just agree to call this the “Global Assessment” from here on out, because that name is way too long.

This Global Assessment is the first ever inter-governmental global synthesis of the state of nature, ecosystems, and the way those contribute to human well-being. Regardless of what's inside the report, its mere existence is a huge deal and a big landmark in the history of biodiversity data reporting. The Global Assessment took three years to complete and was prepared by 150 natural and social science experts from 50 countries, plus an additional 250 experts, all working with the IPBES.

The report synthesizes data from scientific papers, government information, and indigenous and local knowledge, culminating in nearly 15,000 total references. It's like doing a literature review for a class paper, except your bibliography includes information from, you know, like, everywhere. A strategic summary of the Global Assessment went public on May 6th and was based on a set of six chapters as follows:.

Chapter 1: “Providing a road map and outlining key elements in the relationships between people and nature.” Pretty straightforward, right? This chapter is all about how people and nature affect one another and what the elements of those cause and effect pieces are. Chapter 2: “Highlighting the current status and trends in nature, nature's contributions to people and drivers of change.” Basically, what's going on right now and what are some long-term trends.

Also, what's making that change over time happen. Chapter 3: “Assessing progress towards meeting the Aichi Targets, SDGs and the Paris Agreement.” Alright, that's a lot of jargon, so let's check these out. The 2020 Aichi Targets are biodiversity targets that countries are currently working towards meeting.

For example, Target 1 states that “by 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.” SDGs are United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that Member States are trying to achieve by the year 2030. For example, Goal 1 is “No poverty” and Goal 2 is “Zero hunger.” Which leaves the Paris Agreement, an international agreement that set targets for combating climate change. For example, one target of involved countries is to work toward limiting global temperature increases to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

So basically, this chapter is reporting on how humanity is doing with several New Year's resolutions. Chapter 4: “Exploring plausible future scenarios for nature and people to 2050.” This is where it gets a bit scary. Overall, what are some snapshots of where life on Earth could be in 30 years?

Chapter 5: “Focusing on the scenarios, pathways and options that lead to a sustainable future.” Now we're getting into more of the solution side of things. This chapter lays out several game plans for a future that's better for life on Earth to keep on keeping on. And Chapter 6: “Showcasing opportunities and challenges for decision makers at all levels and in a range of contexts.” This last chapter sums up the potential pros and cons of choices that will be made by humans -- where we might have a chance at making things better, and where we might run into trouble.

And now, I present... the results! Well, not really. The full report of all six chapters won't be released until later on this year, and it's expected to be longer than 1,500 pages.

However, on May 6th the IPBES released a 39 page summary of the results, and that's what the major news outlets have been reporting on. So how about... And now, I present... a few key findings obtained from a summary!

Not as catchy, but hey, it's what we have so far. Key message #1, from the summary: “Nature and its vital contributions to people, which together embody biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are deteriorating worldwide.” Welp, that doesn't sound generally promising... But how'd they get to this conclusion?

Let's look at some of the actual statistics. According to the Global Assessment summary, humans are majorly affecting the face of the planet. 75% of land surface has been significantly altered, 66% of the ocean is experiencing more and more impacts, and more than 85% of area classified as wetlands has been lost. In terms of species, human actions are threatening more species with extinction than ever before.

About 25% of species in groups that have been assessed are threatened with extinction, which suggests that around 1 million species could go extinct unless pressures are lifted from them. And this stat jumped out at me: about one-third of reef forming corals, sharks and shark relatives, and marine mammals are threatened with extinction. Ughhh my sweet baby sharkies, nooooo!

Key message #2, from the summary: “Direct and indirect drivers of change have accelerated during the past 50 years.” The change they're talking about is in “nature”, and they've broadly defined “nature” as “the natural world with an emphasis on biodiversity.” So, the things that are changing biodiversity on Earth are rapidly accelerating. The Global Assessment estimated the top five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest global impact. In order from greatest to least, they are: 1) changes in land and sea use, 2) direct exploitation of organisms, 3) climate change, 4) pollution, and 5) invasion of alien species.

As for that number one, changes in land and sea use, the expansion of agriculture is the most widespread type of change, at least on land. This stat totally caught me off guard: approximately one-third of Earth's land surface is being used for cropping or animal husbandry. That's pretty incredible when you think about it.

In addition to agriculture, urban areas have doubled since 1992, and with that has come an unprecedented expansion of infrastructure, like roads, which fragment habitats and impact species. In terms of pollution, global trends are mixed, but in some areas air, water, and soil pollution have all continued to increase. In particular, plastics are doing major damage.

This kind of pollution has increased by 10-fold in the oceans since 1980 and is affecting, among others, 86% of marine turtles. Here's something really neat about this Global Assessment: they included consideration of nature and land as managed by indigenous peoples and local communities. What they found is that overall, while nature is declining less rapidly on these lands than on others, it's still declining.

Resource extraction, production, mining, and energy infrastructure are increasing on these lands, and even some programs implemented to combat climate change are negatively impacting these communities. Things like deforestation, unsustainable agriculture, pollution, and water insecurity are resulting in the loss of traditional livelihoods, as well as affecting the health of indigenous peoples and local communities. Key message #3, from the summary: “Goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.” Yeahhhh, so about that New Year's resolution...

Looks like we stopped going to the gym and started going on overnight benders again. But like, did we at least make it to June? Or did it all go to trash on January 10th?

Unfortunately, it's looking like the latter. Per the report summary, it's likely that a majority of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020 will be missed. As for the Sustainable Development Goals, 80% of the targets related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land will likely be undermined by the current negative trends in biodiversity.

And as for climate change, well... the negative impacts are projected to increase more and more over time. Key message #4, from the summary: “Nature can be conserved, restored and used sustainably while simultaneously meeting other global societal goals through urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative change.” Transformative change. Like, a complete overhaul of almost everything we're doing now.

Okay, so yes, I'll admit it: this Global Assessment Summary so far is an absolute downer. It's really disheartening, and the alarmist tones of most reporting outlets almost seem warranted. But... but... pieces of this are reversible.

Just think about all of the species threatened with extinction. Being threatened doesn't have to mean that they'll go extinct -- there's still a chance that pressures can be reduced, or the populations themselves can adapt. Life... uh... finds a way.

The predictions made for the future don't have to come true. Humanity can make changes right now to change the trajectories laid out in this report. And this is where we come into the picture.

The last parts of the report summary are a list of possible actions and pathways that are likely to support sustainability, and that means... it's time for the Nature League to assemble. [MAGIC CHIME]. That's right! Had to don my Fearless Leader outfit.

So, what's the call to action? The Global Assessment summary discusses five main levers and eight leverage points for creating transformative change. Please keep in mind that no one can do everything right, and individual choices and values are important.

Also, what we know about these issues changes all the time, so we should also keep an open and rational mind that lets us incorporate new recommendations when the next Global Assessment comes out. The five levers presented in this summary are: 1) incentives and capacity-building, 2) cross-sectoral cooperation, 3) pre-emptive action, 4) decision-making in the context of resilience and uncertainty, and 5) environmental law and implementation. Here's what I think we can do personally for each of these large-scale levers.

For incentives and capacity-building, we can consider the incentives of businesses. If you are a business owner, instead of paying a fee in order to build a new structure that harms the habitat of local species, maybe consider spending that money and time to find an alternative location. For cross-sectoral cooperation, we can do exactly what we do here as a Nature League.

If you're involved in ecology, talk to someone involved in the social sciences. If you're a computer scientist, speak to a community organizer. All hands on deck!

The more collaboration, the better our problem-solving ability. For pre-emptive action, we can think about the consequences of our actions before doing them, instead of as an afterthought. Keeping a daily mindset of the present impacting the future will go a long way.

This goes for governments as well as individual citizens. As for decision-making in the context of resilience and uncertainty, this has more to do with policymakers. However, it can totally apply to all of us in our day to day lives.

Our world is full of uncertainty -- that's why we have science! We may never prove answers with the scientific process, but we can work to rule things out along the way. Recognizing uncertainty in all of our decisions is a huge deal, not just for conserving life on Earth, but just generally living.

We have to be able to adapt mentally and emotionally to new information, even if it goes against what we've previously believed. That's what will allow us to make decisions that are robust to a wide range of possibilities in a changing world. As for environmental law and implementation, we can all learn more about the laws that govern life and the environments where we live.

For example, if you live in the United States, you can read up on policy like the U. S. Endangered Species Act and follow the passing of laws related to listing species as endangered where you live.

And as for strengthening environmental laws, this comes down to the voting box. If you're of voting age where you live, learn about and support policies that will promote these long term goals. Or, you might even consider running for office to implement these changes more directly.

Now for the eight leverage points. These are described in the Global Assessment as key points of intervention, and this is where I think we can really focus our actions. #1: “Visions of a good life.” When we each think of what a “good life” is for us, we should include in that vision a reduction in material consumption and general things. For example, if we reach for a life filled with love and incredible experiences, instead of, say, shoes and a mansion, we'll be off to a good start.

But you know, if you really like a certain pair of shoes, you can try finding something similar at a thrift shop or second hand store. #2: “Total consumption and waste.” Along those same lines, we can each majorly contribute by reducing how much we consume and how much we waste across the board. This is easiest to do in certain places and within certain socioeconomic circumstances, but even then, everyone can at least try to be conscious of waste in food, water, and other non-consumable materials. This includes daily diets, and while the literature is mixed when it comes to veganism vs vegetarianism vs poultry-only meat eating, one thing seems pretty certain: beef production has a huge negative impact on land, and reducing that in our diets can go a long way. #3: “Values and action.” Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes!

Now that's what I'm talking about. I really do believe that things like international biodiversity conservation are values all the way down. We can challenge currently existing social norms every day by thinking critically and compassionately and extend the notions of our responsibility to include cause and effect associated with things like consumption. #4: “Inequalities.” This is really important and has been left out in some of the literature and policies regarding sustainability until now.

Human inequalities between factors like income and gender absolutely undermine individual abilities to live sustainably. We need to each promote and support legislation and daily actions that address inequality in humans in order to promote overall sustainability in societies. #5: “Justice and inclusion in conservation.” Yes, and, you know, justice and inclusion in life just generally. Decision-making must be inclusive so that human rights are still considered within conservation decisions.

For example, if a country's government proposes creating a reserve for some endangered species, and that land is currently home to a local human population, both sides of that conversation must be at the table. If we can't treat each other fairly, how can we possibly extend that to other species? #6: “Externalities and telecouplings.” Oooh, there's a new word! The prefix “tele-” comes from the Greek for “far off”, so “telecouplings” are relationships between human and environmental systems across far distances.

For example, international trade. This leverage point asks that we account for the ways that living things and systems can deteriorate not only due to local activities, but global ones as well. We can each learn more about where our products come from and try to make consumption choices based on the lowest known impacts. #7: “Technology, innovation and investment.” Alright, calling all engineers, computer scientists, inventors, and the like.

If you have the power of innovation, use it with sustainability as an end goal in your creation. But it can't just be environmentally friendly innovation in the short term. We also have to take into account the ways that tech can potentially negatively affect other aspects of human society and life on Earth.

So let's be innovative, but also conscious of impacts. #8: “Education and knowledge generation and sharing.” Woohoo! What a good one to end on! Each week on Nature League, we try to do exactly that.

And hey, by watching and sharing this content, you're already a part of this solution. But it's more than just textbook knowledge and data reporting. This leverage point also means promoting the generation and maintenance of different knowledge systems, including indigenous and local knowledge regarding nature and sustainable use.

So, we can each learn as much as we can, but from different sources and knowledge systems. We all have a part to play, and no one person has all of the answers. While the current data and trends in the Global Assessment are troubling and even overwhelming in places, there is still time to change the path we're on as we move into the next decade and beyond.

It'll take each one of us asking what we can do day to day and how our individual strengths can be leveraged to promote sweeping change. And of all the species on Earth, humans are the ones that have surprised me the most -- not just in our capacity to impact the Earth, but in our ability to care for one another and protect the living things on Earth that we hold dear. Thanks for watching this episode of Nature League, produced by Complexly.

We produce over a dozen shows, including PBS's Origin of Everything. Join Dr. Danielle Bainbridge, a Northwestern University professor of theatre and African American studies, as she explores under told histories and cultural dialogues.

From the history of the laugh track to the history of racial passing, no concept is too small or too complex for Danielle to tackle. Check out the Season 2 playlist in the description below! Hey guys!

We have a poster that celebrates some of the world's most endangered sharks. You can get yours today at! The link is in the description.