Stop Talking About Conservation. We Need Restoration and Rehabilitation.

credit: Wikipedia Commons

Last night I wrote a post titled "The fight against climate change is momentous (and also not that hard)".

As soon as I published it, I began second guessing the title. (And it looks like at least one commenter is calling me out on it!) What I was really getting at is that it wouldn't take that much (if we all committed to it) to reach a tipping point where clean energy becomes more economical than dirty energy. We have a very real opportunity to transform how we generate energy and transport goods and people within the next couple of decades.

But reaching that tipping point will only be the beginning in the fight against climate change and ecological destruction.

Even if we woke up tomorrow and our entire grid was running on renewables, and each of us was peddling an ELF, we'd still be dealing with alarming deforestation. We'd still be in the midst of a ruinous mass extinction. We'd still be faced with the consequences of aquatic dead zones, overfishing and plastic-riddled seas. And we'd still be eating food grown by an outdated agricultural paradigm that treats soil (and air and water) like dirt.

It's within this context that I started mulling on current conservation efforts.

Having just watched Mission Blue, I excited as all hell about Sylvia Earle's efforts to protect 20% of the oceans as marine conservation parks (Hope Spots, as she calls them.) But I am beginning to think that "conservation" as a term has its distinct limitations.

Yes, preserving existing ecosystems is a crucial and valuable cause, but just as funding clean energy and energy efficiency is a starting point for necessary change, so too "conservation" needs to be a gateway to something much, much bigger: restoration and rehabilitation. Not only is this necessary given the destruction we have wrought, it's also, perhaps counterintuitively, much easier to get people on board, at least with the concept.

From flood-hit villages who are reforesting their degraded hillsides to a single man planting up a 136 acre forest, the idea of planting a garden, nurturing our surroundings, and restoring what we've lost resonates with many of us in a way that simply putting a fence around existing biodiversity can never really do. (Yes, I know I am oversimplifying the great work of conservationists—but that's how it is often perceived.)

From increasing, regenerating and "rewilding" pure wilderness areas to creating space for nature within our new energy infrastructure, from promoting truly restorative agroecology to reducing the sprawl of our cities, there's nothing easy or simple about executing this necessary transition. There will be those who are unmotivated or uninterested in getting on board. And there will be those, many of whom have profited handsomely from the status quo, who will actively oppose it.

But there is also an increasing number of people the world over who are facing the very real, devastating consequences of business as usual. As these people look for solutions, it's not going to be enough—nor is it particularly interesting—to talk about "limiting the damage".

We have to set out on repairing what is broken.