Living with Nature

Natural History, February 2004 | Go to article overview

Living with Nature


EVERYDAY ACTIONS TO SUSTAIN OUR PLANET

We spoke with Dr. Eleanor Sterling, Director of the American Museum of Natural History's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC), about Living with Nature, the upcoming special program celebrating the CBCs tenth anniversary.

Why is the CBC presenting this program, and why now? We feel that it's very important to complement our research and education efforts with programs that reach out to the general public. The CBC has just marked its tenth anniversary, and we are celebrating the occasion with a special event that looks at the impact of our everyday actions on the natural world, and what that means for the future. The goal of the Living with Nature event on February n is to convey the message that everyone has a role to play in meeting the challenges of the biodiversity crisis-the accelerating loss of animals, plants, and habitats that is caused primarily by human activities.

What type of "everyday actions" will this event cover? Some people may feel that they have absorbed the "reduce, reuse, recycle" message, and want to hear more.

Certainly the "three Rs" are a . central tenet of sustainability, but it's also important to recognize that many, many things we do and buy every day affect biodiversity. For example, the production and transport involved in simply a cup of coffee impacts myriad species-from invertebrates to birds to fish. And it will likely come as no surprise that we in the United States are the biggest consumers globally-it is estimated that if everyone in the world lived like we do it would take at least two additiona planets to produce the resources, absorb the wastes, and otherwise maintain life.

Does living "more sustainably" mean making major lifestyle changes?

Absolutely not! I teach conservation biology, and I always tell my students that they should go ahead and indulge in those things they feel are necessary to live happy, fulfilling lives. However, I also suggest that if they take a reflective look at their everyday choices, they may find areas in which they can make changes that will not turn their lives upside down. For example, if you drink coffee, you might choose to purchase shadegrown, organic coffee. Biologists report finding significantly more bird species in traditional shaded coffee plantations than in the newer, sunny coffee fields. Coffee grown in the shade also requires few or no chemical inputs-the leaf litter replenishes the soil nutrients and birds discourage pests. …

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