By Jenna Siu
When I was in grade school, I would spend some time at a friend’s lakeside cottage during the summer. We would catch toads and frogs and put them in a bucket with some water. I would think, "this is neat, they are slimy and weird looking."
That was about the extent of my interest in wildlife back then. I cared for animals, but I didn’t understand them. It wasn't until I immersed myself in the field of biology and I learned about the Earth’s geological history and the evolutionary history of biodiversity that I began to value the nature I saw around me. All of a sudden the rocks, plants and animals had stories behind them that I wanted to hear. It's easy to get caught up in our day-to-day human activities. We often forget that the planet we live on has billions of years of history and plenty of tales to tell.
The Earth is 4.543 billion years old to be exact. A timeline that is virtually inconceivable to us, with our short lives. The oldest evidence of life dates back to 3.5 billion years ago. Over a third of the Earth’s existence so far was spent going through geological changes that made it eventually habitable for life. Most of the biodiversity we are familiar with today are the descendants of the life forms from nearly 540 million years ago during the Cambrian Explosion. If the geological timescale was scaled to the timeline of one year, this event would have begun on November 18 at 5:11pm! I found this analogy quite astonishing and it helped put into perspective our place in the Earth’s history.
Between then and now there has been a myriad of organisms where some lineages live on today and others have gone extinct. One story that has stuck with me is about one of the oldest lineages still around today, sharks. Sharks are some of the earliest jawed fish to have evolved around 425 million years ago. Their body shape has remained largely unchanged and species from millions of years ago would still be recognizable to us today as sharks. Some may describe them as primitive, but these animals have found an incredibly successful life strategy and stuck with it. They have survived warming periods, ice ages and four mass extinctions!
In comparison, Homo species began to appear less than 2 million years ago. When scaled to a year-long timeline, our species, Homo sapiens, appeared on December 31 at 11:48 pm. In other words, we are a very young species, one that is in our infancy, geologically speaking. We have become an incredibly influential species in nature, for better or for worse, but when it comes our long-term success that is yet to be determined. Sharks, on the other hand, got something right to have lasted this long. Our species could probably learn a thing or two from them if we want to ensure our legacy continues.
Similarly, it is easy to overlook the millions of species we co-exist with. It is easy to think that humans are the greater species; everything that came before was leading up to us. However, in studying ecology we learn that it is a less linear progression and that species adapt in a way that makes them well suited for their particular environment. The evolution of biodiversity is more like a web growing outward in different directions rather than a tree growing only upward.
There is nothing like going to a harsh environment to see first hand the incredible adaptations species have to deal with these challenges. During my undergraduate, I took a field course to the Sonoran desert. Deserts are dry, hot and water is a precious resource, yet plenty of life has found unique ways to cope with the challenges. The saguaro cacti are succulent plants that have deep taproots that can reach groundwater. Some plants have small waxy leaves to better retain water in the dry heat. I began to see that one species is not necessarily superior than another, but rather each species is well adapted to its niche and is part of a greater, complex and well-tuned system. A system that has had millions of years to work out the kinks and that continues to adapt.
Over the last several years, I have started to discover the story behind a fraction of the biodiversity past and present. This is what compelled me to start caring about the state of biodiversity today. Listening to and observing the story of life on our planet changed my perspective from one that was human-centric to one that views each species, including us, as part of a larger picture in nature.
Now when I find a frog, my thought process is very different from my earlier days. I think about what species it is, why I found it in a particular area and what it was doing. I also think about how amphibians were the first land vertebrates and the adaptations that allowed for this new way of life. Now knowing more about their biology, I am more wary of catching and handling them than I once was. It can cause unnecessary stress for an animal and if not careful, any residue left on my hands could be absorbed through their sensitive skin and cause them harm.
We have learned a lot about the natural world through research and observation, but there is so much more to be discovered. When we know about the biodiversity around us and gain a greater understanding of it, we can appreciate it and respect it. After all, the history of the Earth and the biodiversity around us is part of our very existence, our story and necessary for our survival.
This blog is also posted on Jenna's website.
By Brian Millard
It has been estimated that we are losing species 1,000 times faster than normal, and have even deemed this period of time as the Holocene extinction. The irony of this whole situation is that the species causing these extinctions (that’s us, by the way) is the same species whose survival depends on the survival of other species on the planet! What a twisted web we have all laid. How do we undo what we have done and effectively protect Earth’s biodiversity? To make it make sense in my head, I’ve broken it down into 3 levels.
The first level is the individual level. Sadly, just like going on a diet, there are no quick solutions! So we have to get back to the basics. That’s right, it means using all three R’s! We should all be reducing our rates of consumption and waste production. We should only be using products with multiple practicalities so we can reuse them as much as possible. And finally, we must recycle what we aren’t able to reuse anymore. It is also important to support initiatives that preserve and protect biodiversity in your area. That can include supporting an environmental organization, joining in a BioBlitz, or starting up a tree-planting event or community garden!
The second level involves industry. We interact with companies and corporations on a minute-to-minute basis. There is are a small portion of people who are completely self-sufficient, and we usually call them “crazy forest people” and then watch their TLC reality show. We have a lot of power as the consumer, but we rarely use it on behalf of the environment. So here is my challenge to you! READY?! It’s quite easy, go through your life today and pick three brands that you encounter (yes, No Brand name is still a brand!) and go to their Contact Us page on their website. Send them a message and ask what their Environmental Policy is and what they’re doing to make it better. You might be surprised with the responses you get!
Finally, the third level is all about the government! Our voice doesn’t lose power after an election, and it’s important for us to not forget that. We need to constantly remind our government of their role as environmental leaders, and hold them to the promises they make while getting our votes. It’s actually super easy to get in contact with your members of parliament, just click HERE. Send an email or call or write a letter and make sure that your government is doing everything possible to protect and preserve our country’s biodiversity.
I would like to apologize for not providing a revolutionary idea on how we can help with biodiversity loss. It really boils down to reminding ourselves that every decision and choice we make has an effect on the world around us. Even if you aren’t a politician or the CEO of some corporation, you can do many things to protect and preserve the species we share Earth with. Since it’s almost 2016, let’s make a new year’s resolution to become more informed global citizens and active participants in the protection of Earth’s biodiversity!
This blog is also posted on Earth Unfiltered.
.By Jenna Quinn
I often find myself explaining my job to people. Family, friends, acquaintances - it is not uncommon for me to get a “and that is your job!?” response when I tell them about how I spent the day counting butterflies, walking trails, measuring trees, rescuing turtles, identifying salamanders, locating lady slippers, or any other highlight (I rarely talk about the office work…it just doesn’t measure up!). The most common question I get about the monitoring projects is why? Why should I care about salamanders? What do they do, how do they help, why do we monitor them?
Studying zoology at university, I struggled to understand how everyone in my life didn’t find everything I was learning as fascinating as I did. I’d bombard my family and friends with whatever animal trivia I learned that day and expect them to be just as awed and wowed as I was. When I get asked about why salamanders are important, I often feel like I did back then. “Because they are incredible, awesome, cool creatures!” I, like many others, see an intrinsic value in salamanders just because they exist. I want to watch them, learn about them, protect them. The truth is that everyone sees value in things in their own way and for some people salamanders just aren’t on the top of the list. And that’s okay! Luckily there are a lot of other reasons why we should all care about salamanders and keep them from going the way of the Dodo.
Salamanders are both a predator and a prey species, making them an essential link in the food chain in most forest ecosystems. They are ferocious predators of insects and arthropods making them a natural pest control. Some salamanders, like the Spotted Salamander, have larval forms that eat aquatic insects, helping to control pesky populations of mosquitoes by feeding on their larvae. Some larger salamander species (not found in Ontario) even eat small rodents!
Salamanders are, in turn, eaten by rodents, birds, and snakes. As the most common vertebrate species in most forests, they are an important and abundant food source to sustain other wildlife. By being efficient predators of insects and providing ample food for other species, salamanders play an important role in transferring energy up the food chain. They also help manage decomposition and nutrient cycling in the forest ecosystem by being active predators of invertebrates.
One of my favourite reasons to care about salamanders unsurprisingly tied back to monitoring. Lungless salamanders, like the abundant Eastern Red-backed Salamander, are excellent indicator species as they are highly sensitive to contaminants in their environment. They can be quick to respond to environmental stresses like pollution and can therefore be very informative!
Whether the sight of a salamander makes you feel squeamish or delighted, there are many great reasons to protect them. So, let’s ensure they can continue to play an important role in our ecosystems!
By Raechel Bonomo
My favourite holiday memory is learning to make mashed potatoes in my grandma’s kitchen. Her hand gently clasping mine as I firmly squished down into a large yellow bowl using an old wooden-handled masher. I recall the way she recited the intricate family recipe. It is laced with table cream, a pinch of salt and the secret ingredient that has kept the mashed creation a must-have on our holiday table.
Learning how to make these potatoes felt like an initiation of sorts. It was one almost every female member of my family has gone through. No holiday meal is truly complete without this dish.
Carefully prepared meals are often a quintessential part of the holidays. More than that, food structures human lives into three parts: breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are copious articles telling us what we should and shouldn’t eat, the newest recipes to try and what foods to eat to lose weight.
But what if eating was as simple as consuming whatever happened to swim by?
Oh, to live like a fish.
Although our finned friends are as dependent on food as humans are, they’re not nearly as picky.
What a fish consumes boils down to their species, size and region. Larger fish, such as the anadromous salmon, tend to munch on smaller saltwater species like herring, who in turn opt for zooplankton and krill.
While other large freshwater fish such as trout will snack primarily on insects and smaller fish, sometimes what a fish eats is simply what it can fit in its mouth.
Largemouth Bass have been known to consume an interesting array of things, ranging from the typical crayfish to the odd small bird or two. This species is known to eat frogs, leeches, snakes and even small mammals.
Food availability and competition in an area also play a role in what a species may eat. Habitat degradation and pollution can negatively impact what’s on the menu. It often altering aquatic "food webs" by forcing species to opt for different food sources. With the introduction of invasive species such as Round Goby in many watersheds across Canada, sometimes getting a sufficient bite to eat is harder than simply chomping down on whatever floats a fish’s way.
Round Goby compete directly with other bottom-dwelling fish.,They not only eating similar prey but sometimes even preying on smaller fish, such as darters and logperch. By reducing the availability of food for native species, Round Goby over-populate areas by dwindling the numbers of species, including Northern Madtom and Eastern Sand Darter. Gobies will also intrude into the nests of native species and snack on their eggs. This prevents any offspring from hatching, impacting the life cycle of a native species and contributes to the decrease in population.
In the wake of the growing number of invasive species like the Round Goby, food has never been more important to native species. Fish need this sustenance for their development so they can reproduce, which helps keep populations of native species afloat.
Food plays an important part in every species’ life. From humans to fish, from a bowl of creamy mashed potatoes to a school of plankton. Food is the one thing we can all sink our teeth into.
By Brian Millard
As somewhat of a science-nerd I find it fascinating to be living during a global science experiment. Quite often we are looking to see if there is a cause-and-effect situation going on and not just random events. Well, the scientific community has come to a resounding consensus that human activities (burning fossil fuels, over-fishing, pollution, etc.) are causing global biodiversity loss.
If you are able to read this article right now, I would like to formally welcome you to the Holocene Extinction. Also known as the Sixth Mass Extinction. Now there is no need to raise an alarm and start stocking up on bottled water and cans of tuna, because this extinction event has been going on for the last 9,000 – 13,000 years!
Hold on! If this mass extinction has been going on for 13,000 years, how is it possible that humans have had that big of an effect? True. Unfortunately there was no CNN or Buzzfeed back then to say for sure what caused the extinction so long ago. Some think that following the last Ice Age, certain species couldn’t adapt fast enough as the environment changed. Others believe that these early extinctions were caused by the proliferation of modern humans.
Regardless of the distant past, it is glaringly obvious that modern humans have been the cause of modern extinction. It is hard for me to think of one activity I do in a day that isn’t directly, or indirectly, linked to biodiversity loss. The Holocene Extinction event has affected every major group of plants and animals on land and in water. The trickiest part is estimating the current rate of extinction. Especially when you consider that we share Earth with an estimated 8.7 million different species of plants and animals, and have yet to name 88.5% of them.
There are a couple of estimates for our current extinction rate. Stuart Pimm, a theoretical ecologist, stated that the current extinction rate of plants is 100 times higher than pre-human rates. A study published in 2014 in Conservation Biology claims that our current extinction rate is 1,000 times more than the natural background rates.
Long story short, we are losing more species of plants and animals than we are gaining new species. Mass extinction isn’t a new phenomena to our planet. The fact remains that this extinction is occurring because of a certain species of animal and within such a short ecological time frame. Itis something that is both terrifying and fascinating.
This blog is also posted on Earth Unfiltered.
By Jenna Siu
When I tell people I did my master’s working with butterflies I get a lot of different reactions. Among fellow biologists, there is a certain appreciation for a study species even if it may not be their species of choice. However, among the general public it is a different story. "Butterflies, are they even animals?"
Butterflies are indeed animals and there are tons of reasons why butterflies make great study organisms. They are relatively easy to catch and handle, and mostly easy to observe. Plus, butterflies are relatively short lived, which makes it easy to study them over many generations. Because of this, a number of butterfly populations around the world have been monitored for decades, resulting in work that has made major contributions to our understanding of population dynamics and conservation.
Part of my project was to assess the Eastern Tiger and the Spicebush Swallowtails’ movement relative to forest edges in the fragmented landscape of southern Ontario. Did they move towards it, avoid it, or a bit of both? To learn about this we caught butterflies and released them at different distances from the edge and followed them using a GPS unit to record their movement.
Working on butterflies had a few benefits. They come out when it’s sunny and are active during the day. Swallowtails are some of the largest butterflies in Ontario, so they take longer to warm up. I didn’t expect to see many out before 10 am or after 5 pm. On a typical day, I rolled out of bed around 8:30 am, ate breakfast and prepared my lunch. Eventually my field assistant would follow, we would pack the car and be on the road at 9:30 am. We would pack butterfly nets, a cooler with ice packs and a towel, many glassine envelopes, a permanent marker, GPS unit, field guides, lots of sunscreen and water.
After arriving at a site, we would walk around with our nets, sometimes up and down a road, through fields or along the forest edge looking for swallowtails. People often say to me, “I picture you frolicking in the fields catching butterflies.” Clearly, they have never gone butterfly catching before.
Catching butterflies is anything but graceful. In fact, some advice I was given before heading to the field was, “if you don’t look silly doing it, you’re not doing it right.” Truer words have never been spoken. Swallowtails are very strong fliers; they can fly high and fast. I couldn’t count the number of times a swallowtail has out flown me or made me run in circles. I have chased after falling leaves, fallen on my face, gotten scrapes and bruises, gone through poison ivy and swarms of deer flies and mosquitoes all to get one more sample.
Through many failed attempts, I quickly learned the tricks of the trade. It is much easier to sneak up on swallowtails while they are on a flower feeding on nectar. However if you miss, you have about a 30 second window to redeem yourself; otherwise it will likely out fly you. You can also catch them mid-flight or chase after them, but trust me, it is much harder. By mid-field season, my field assistant and I were pro butterfly catchers, catching well over 600 throughout the summer!
Once a butterfly was caught, we would carefully take it out of the net, put it in a glassine envelope and in the cooler. Butterflies are ectothermic, meaning their surroundings determine their body temperature. So, putting them in a cooler does minimal harm – as long as it’s not too cold!
There are a lot of myths about touching a butterfly’s wings and people always ask how safe it is for the insect. Their wings are covered in a powder like substance that is actually tiny scales. This is what gives them their bright colours and patterns. Lepidoptera, the scientific order they belong to, means ‘scaly wings’. As butterflies age, they lose their scales naturally. Although, you don’t want to handle them too much causing them to lose scales faster, it is very safe to hold them by pinching the wings together just behind the head – the strongest part of their wing.
After a few butterflies were caught, we would bring them to the release site. For each butterfly release, we would take a butterfly from the cooler, sex it and give it a unique ID in case we caught it again. To mark butterflies we simply used a permanent marker to write on their wings. For Eastern Tigers, which are mainly yellow, it was easy to write a number on their underwing. For the Spicebush however, they are mainly black. They have six orange spots on their underwings that we marked in unique patterns.
After recording this information, we would put the butterfly on the ground, wait for it to take off and follow it using flags and a GPS unit, doing our best not to influence its flight. We did this repeatedly throughout the day. When 5 pm rolled around and few butterflies were to be found, we headed back to the field station to make dinner ending the day with a few beers around the campfire.
I have now completed my master’s and as it turns out, forest edges are an important landscape feature for these swallowtails. It can be stressful to manage your own research project, but when it’s all said and done, I only have fond memories of spending the hot summer days catching butterflies.
This blog is also posted on Dispatches from the Field and Jenna's website
By Patrick Schaefer
As a child, my parents took me and my sister to a Conservation Authority park almost every weekend. My favourites were Mountsberg, Hilton Falls and Crawford Lake. These parks are in the vicinity of the Niagara Escarpment. They support high levels of biodiversity and contain a range of natural features like streams, lakes, wetlands and forest habitats. These are still my favourite parks to this day.
Parks Canada is celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday by giving free admission to national parks in 2017. But let’s take a minute to learn about Conservation Authorities (CA). They are another type of organization that protects natural spaces and engages people with nature. You may have missed it, but 2016 marked 70 years of CAs protecting Ontario’s Biodiversity. A total of 36 CAs operate in Ontario. They provide programs and services to 90% of Ontario’s population.
Conservation Authorities are non-profit organizations. They operate with a board of directors appointed by municipalities within their jurisdictions. The 1946 Conservation Authorities Act mandates that CAs manage water, land and natural resources. They do this through restoration, management and conservation actions. The 1920s and 30s was a peak time of extensive deforestation, soil loss and widespread degradation of natural resources. CAs were created in response to this poor land and resource management. In 1954 Hurricane Hazel dropped ~280mm of rain on southern Ontario. Combined with winds of >100km/hr, this event resulted in 81 deaths and $25 million dollars in damages. Today that would be equal to over $250 million. After review, the Conservation Authority Act was amended in 1959 to include protecting people and property from flooding.
Most people may be familiar with CAs for their local parks. They serve to protect natural areas and act as a resource for education and recreation for the public. Ontario’s CAs own and protect nearly 150,000 hectares of our natural and cultural heritage areas. In addition, CAs play a major role in restoration efforts. In 2012 they collectively planted more than 3 million trees, provided $8.4 million for water quality improvement projects. These projects were related to erosion control and agricultural best management practices. They also carry out restoration and rehabilitation of aquatic and terrestrial habitats. But CAs are about much more than land protection. CAs manage $2.7 billion dollars in flood control and prevention infrastructure. Prevention infrastructure can include dams, dykes, channels and erosion control structures. These structures and activities save roughly $100 million dollars annually in preventing flood damage and loss of life!
Conservation Authorities also play an important role in monitoring healthy ecosystems. In partnership with provincial agencies, CAs track surface and groundwater across Ontario. They monitor aquatic ecosystems by assessing fish and aquatic insect communities. Biological monitoring occurs at more than 1000 sites across the province.
Since graduating with a M.Sc in 2014 I have worked at two Conservation Authorities conducting biological monitoring. Contributing to the preservation of natural spaces and conservation of biodiversity has been an incredibly rewarding experience.
With the money you are saving from free admission to Parks Canada this year, consider visiting some parks at your local CA. It will support the many great programs and services they offer. There are also many opportunities to get involved. Most CAs offer volunteer opportunities in restoration and monitoring projects. To learn more, check out the Conservation Ontario website and your local CA.
By Stephanie Varty
Spending summers by the lake is how everything started; warm weather, bright sun and a canoe paddle in hand. Lakes have always been important in my heart because of my upbringing. Exploring the water and finding crisp refreshment every time I jumped in will always be something that brings me both a sense of euphoria and joy. Yet, it has been in recent years which have allowed for lakes to solidify a place in my mind and now in my research. Canadian lakes cover between 10 to 15% of the country’s area. This percentage is underestimated and the lakes understudied (Brown and Duguay 2010). Lakes play a role in regulating physical processes, cycling nutrients and sustaining life. Many of these processes tend to go unseen by the naked eye. But when you look closer you can see systems that are overflowing with biodiversity.
My research has given me a new perspective on why it is important to study these lake systems. This summer I will be trading in my warm weather and canoe paddle to go to a lake much further north. I will be traveling to Lake Hazen on Ellesemere Island, NU, which is the largest lake north of the Arctic Circle. Lake Hazen is a prime example of how lake systems function under extreme weather conditions. Lake Hazen experiences 24 hours of daylight during spring and summer months and a summer season that lasts at most two months (Lehnherr et al 2012). During this short season a burst of growth occurs with melting ice. Lemmings come out to play, mats of lichen cover the ground and fields of arctic poppies sprout up. Though there are so many interesting things that are above ground, what I am concerned with is much smaller and submerged in the water.
A main part of my research is to understand where mercury processing bacteria occur across the landscape. This is so I can better understand where toxic forms of mercury are being degraded and produced. These bacteria are microscopic, but in abundance. Under the right conditions, they can produce a form of mercury called methylmercury that enters the food web. The concentrations of this toxin also increase over time (bioaccumulation) and as you move up the food web (biomagnification, Morel et al 1998). This means that a small amount of mercury in the water can translate into a large amount once it reaches top predators like Arctic char and seals. Unfortunately, this not only spells out health problems for the animals, but for humans as well. High concentrations of mercury in Arctic lake systems means that the health of Arctic Indigenous People could be at risk because they consume some of the top predators as a part of their traditional food. Investigating mercury in lake systems is important for understanding ecosystem functions, but is also needed for the cultural and physical well-being of people.
I am fortunate that my research allows me to have an adventure, contribute to science and have a role in understanding community health. My past experiences and experiences to come shape in my mind and in my heart the importance of lakes in Canada. For me and many people country-wide, lakes are not just an important resource, but something that is intertwined in their life story. It is important that we nurture these ecosystems and pay close attention to what they have to teach us. I can guarantee you they have plenty to teach us.
Brown, L. C., and C. R. Duguay (2010), The response and role of ice cover in lake-climate interactions, Prog. Phys. Geogr., 34(5), 671–704
Lehnherr, I., Louis, V. L. S., Emmerton, C. A., Barker, J. D., & Kirk, J. L. (2012). Methylmercury Cycling
in High Arctic Wetland Ponds: Sources and Sinks. Environmental Sciences and Technology 46, 10514−10522.
Morel, F. M. M., Kraepiel, A. M. L., & Amyot, M. (1998). The chemical cycle and bioaccumulation of
mercury. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 29, 543–566.
By Chris Hay
“Zero waste living” seems like a revolutionary new movement, but at its core it’s actually a simple and obvious idea. Reducing our trash as much as possible, ideally to nothing, would save us money and reduce pressure on the environment. Many other movements are closely related: voluntary simplicity, collaborative consumption (sharing), and the
I had a brush with this movement when I heard about Bulk Barn implementing a new system. You can now bring your own reusable containers into the store to fill with food, rather than using the single-use plastic bags and containers they provide. Having recently heard about the tragedy of plastic in our oceans, and already owning several empty containers waiting to be used, this was my perfect opportunity to make a positive change.
I washed and gathered up a variety of reusable containers and put them in a reusable cloth bag. At the store the cashier quickly inspected and weighed each container, applying to each one a tiny sticker with the weight written on it. An elderly woman asked what was going on, so I explained the new program to her. She seemed intrigued – maybe once more people see it happening, it will catch on! I went to the bulk bins and filled each container with what I had planned. At the checkout the cashier subtracted the weights of the containers from the total when ringing it up. It was all surprisingly speedy and easy!
Before you go, definitely check out Bulk Barn’s policy and container standards on their website. I’ll highlight a few things. Your containers need to be totally spotless (literally, no water spots!) and mason jars with rusty metal lids may not be accepted. Make sure you carefully wash and dry your containers, and inspect them after to make sure there’s no residue stuck in a corner. When filling your container, don’t pour back and make sure the scoop does not touch the sides (pour over the top). If you want to get anything liquid (e.g. peanut butter), I recommend choosing a container with as wide an opening as possible. Otherwise it will be hard to fill without making a mess (the scoops are quite large). Before your next visit, wash your containers again and remove the old sticker. When the cashier inspects your containers before weighing they may reject any of your containers for any reason, in which case don’t stress using bag(s) and you’ll know for next time. Let’s make life easy for the cashiers so the new program is well received!
Like most environmental movements, using reusables at Bulk Barn can seem like too small an action to make a difference. I saved a few light little bags from going into the garbage – big deal, so what? But a lot of small, steady water drops in a bucket and before you know it, the bucket is overflowing. What if we didn’t need to keep refilling Bulk Barn’s massive rolls of plastic bags? And consider that you are now not buying the product from a regular grocery store in a container that would be even more wasteful. When I was a kid, my family and most people I knew didn’t recycle at home or use reusable cloth bags for groceries. As years went on (and with a little pressure) these activities became completely commonplace and natural. That’s a big difference! I hope shopping with reusable containers can undergo the same process, moving from niche to the new normal. For me, at least, I’ve already found this to be a simple switch, and I feel empowered and ready to move onto the next positive lifestyle change.
Besides reducing waste, there is a bigger lesson here. How and why did Bulk Barn change their policy and embrace this new idea? The story goes that there was always a community writing in, fighting for the retailer to allow refillable containers, but it wasn’t until one lady went ahead and broke store policy (using her own containers, at the risk of reprimand from the store) that policy change took place. It seems that for changes like this to happen it takes finding a good idea, many people taking action, and a little bravery along the way. Let’s be a part of these changes, a part of making the world a better place (one less bag at a time)!
By Brian Millward
Sometimes I wish that humans were disconnected from nature. I imagine this wonderland where our global population has no effect on the natural world. Everyone just goes about their day as normal, without any ramifications. Then reality sets in and I have to face the facts that our actions do have an impact on the world around us, and I mean every action! Already as I sit here on my laptop (electricity consumption), drinking my green tea (agriculture and transportation), and wearing my pajamas (water pollutants and waste) I have probably single-handedly wiped out a species of microbe!
It seems almost impossible to think of an activity we do that doesn’t jeopardize the biodiversity on Earth, including our own species survival. That’s the hilarious part about conserving biodiversity – it’s not about the millions of species of plants and animals, but about us. Our very existence is dependent on the services that plants and animals provide for us here on Earth. There’s pollinators that keep our crops healthy, medicinal plants that heal us, and plants and animals that nourish us. There are even microscopic creatures that decompose our waste, and phytoplankton that create oxygen that we breathe!
Our reliance on the species with which we share this planet is staggering. Yet we continue to have a delusion of superiority towards all other life forms. However, we are far from perfection. For instance, the value of pollination by bees is estimated around 16 billion dollars in the US alone! Without that ability to effectively pollinate, which has taken millions of years to evolve, we would not be able to enjoy many of the fruits and vegetables we consume.
There are countless examples of how dependent we are on the natural world around us. As much as we try to break away from the laws of nature, we constantly are reminded of our place in the world. The recent decline in bee populations is one of the rude awakenings we have had to face. As we threaten more and more species, it is difficult to know just how hard our economies and societies will be hit.
When Nicolaus Copernicus discovered that the Earth revolved around the Sun, it forced humans to accept that we are not the center of the Universe. Well I’m here to burst our bubble again, because we’re also not the center of our own planet. Our natural world consists of countless connections between organisms that interact and affect one another. If we’re going to flourish in this world we will have to enter into a new era of selfishness.
A new selfishness where we preserve and protect other species because without them, our existence is compromised. While it’s totally okay for us to care about ourselves, we have to understand that the well-being of other species directly affects us in every way.
What’s in it for you? Everything.
This blog is also posted on Earth Unfiltered.
Blogs are written by ELB members who want to share their stories about Ontario's biodiversity.