We humans are an integral part of nature, and as such we are affected by everything the delicate but resilient balance of nature experiences. This is something we have lost sight of in these times of city-living and consumerism. However, it is not all bad news. As David Attenborough says, we are intelligent enough to find and implement solutions.

This year, each of us, in every corner of the planet, has felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It changed our lives in every possible way. The pandemic has been a shock to our system, and we are all waiting for it to end – but if we persist with ‘life as we knew it before COVID’, then this pandemic may not be our last.

It is our over-consumption and the lack of awareness of our impact in high income countries, not global population growth, that is putting the biggest pressure on the planet’s resources.

We currently face three threats: climate change, loss of biodiversity and pandemics. We can achieve the greatest and fastest improvements by rebuilding biodiversity.

Biodiversity is the balance of all life on Earth; the symbiotic relationship between each habitat and species. Damage one, impact the other.

We have destroyed more than 60 per cent of the world’s biodiversity in the last 50 years. Currently only four per cent of all animals on the planet are wild, we have turned over 75 per cent of the planet’s land area into cities or farmland, so under 25 per cent is a wild, biodiverse ecosystem.

Just three months of lockdown proved how rapidly nature regenerates when we’re out of the equation- Vanya Veras

We still destroy over 10 billion trees every year. This enormous imbalance is the greatest risk we face.

On World Environmental Health Day, awareness of the direct link between environmental health and human health is of unique significance.

Science has proven that 31 per cent of emerging diseases originate from land use change. In farming practices that observe and mimic nature, pesticides and medication are unnecessary; the natural predators exert the control.

And let’s not forget the effect of clearing rainforests in the natural order. Loss of habitat for nature’s predators and larger herbivores – the ecosystem engineers – means that disease-carrying smaller mammals like rodents and bats can enjoy almost unlimited population growth. We have created a situation that is the perfect natural petri dish for pandemics.

This is where we are today, but do not lose hope. Now is the time we can make the greatest recovery ever known to man. Techniques, some new, some ancient and revived, are available and being implemented on a small scale. This opportunity we talk of, to reverse biodiversity loss, climate change and put an end to pandemics, requires their implementation on a very large scale.

This is our opportunity.

By becoming sustainable consumers, increasing our self-sufficiency, reducing our energy demands and by bringing biodiversity into cities and back into food production, we can fix these problems that collectively, we have all created.

Over 60 per cent of food produced today ends up as waste. Every one of us can improve that statistic by planning our weekly meals, eating local, seasonal produce and by sorting out food waste so it is composted. Compost returned to the land increases soil biodiversity, which in turn strengthens ecosystems.

Creating ways to ensure food production without using land area would reduce the burden on the world’s farmland and return agricultural land to its natural, wild, balanced state. We can do this by using new available techniques locally, such as aquaponics, hydroponics and geoponics.

We can also rewild our urban areas: turn them into urban forests. By planting wild ecosystems rich in local biodiversity on every available built surface, we as individuals can make significant progress towards rebalancing the Earth’s systems. Green roofs, green walls and urban gardens, when planted in accordance with the local flora and fauna, have the capacity to bring back the biodiversity upon which we all depend.

If the public and private individuals alike make a focused effort to bring biodiverse ecosystems into the heart of cities and to rewild farmland and forests, while improving farmers’ livelihoods with new food production methods, imagine how much we can improve as a planet in five years. Just three months of lockdown this year proved how rapidly nature regenerates when we are out of the equation.

In essence, we have the tools to restore balance to environmental health while remaining inside the equation.

Vanya Veras is an expert in environmental affairs, waste management and green infrastructure.

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