A Wild Answer to Climate Change

Climate change science can be complicated, but its impacts can be stated very simply: Nature supports all life, and climate change is negatively affecting Nature's ability to produce that life support. As a result, human society and its economy are slowly but increasingly threatened, with both our quality of life and the survival of many other species hanging in the balance.

The elements of nature's climate change control system are trees, grasses and shrubs, oceanic plankton, soil microbes, bacteria in swamps and wetlands, and so much more. Climate change is a problem caused by living things growing and thriving (industrialized humans), and many of the solutions to climate change can be found in living things growing and thriving (other species). The earth's climate control systems are self-perpetuating and self-willed, and we have names for them: forests, oceans, grasslands, wild nature, wilderness, wild lands and seas. The latest research confirms that wild nature, terrestrial or marine, can mitigate (absorb, reuse, recycle) approximately half of the carbon currently produced.

Maintaining large areas of land and sea that are biologically intact, healthy and well-functioning is a low-cost way to address climate change and, among many other benefits, enhance human health and well-being while preserving the resilience and diversity of life on earth. Even more, it is a wise, respectful, and beautiful thing to do.

Conservation science shows us that this is not only smart, it is necessary. Research demonstrates that nature's ability to provide life support -- that's for all life, not just human -- diminishes rapidly once the size of an intact ecosystem is reduced below a critical threshold. That threshold is approximately 50 percent of the original area, depending on the type of system, or habitat -- intact forest, untilled grassland, colorful and vibrant coral reefs, and soggy wetlands. The jury has decided: size matters!

New campaigns are emerging to help communicate the importance of wilderness, and its critical role in health, prosperity, and sanity, as well as its role in addressing climate change. "Nature Needs Half" has been underway since 2009, implemented and "given away" by The WILD Foundation and an increasing host of organizations, initiatives and people. "Half Earth" is more recent, and is the brainchild of eminent, wise, and avuncular scientist Edward O. Wilson of Harvard. Uncle Ed steadily works at it, a scientist who innately understands and is committed to fostering a sense of interest in and caring for wilderness. Jane Goodall was one of the first scientists to endorse "Nature Needs Half," and she is an indefatigable rock star of beautiful simplicity and hope for reconciliation with nature.

The message is simple: wilderness is necessary -- the more the better -- but how do we make this reality understandable, accessible and cool? We have a plethora of conservation organizations, institutes, think tanks, and agencies. They are necessary, but they mostly deal in science and policy, and their jargon is as opaque as carbon gas and methane are invisible. Science and policy are important, but they are tools. What we need is a new kind of vector, a bridge from ideas to inspiration and action. We need a social movement, and to fire up a movement we need to eliminate the jargon and "strike up the band."

Culture, in both its broadest and its most specific manifestations, is the most powerful medium we have to motivate a message. Culture informs community, community engenders relationship, relationship enhances caring, and caring gets results. Along with the movements toward racial and gender equality, one of the greatest movements of the 20th century was the idea of national parks. The crucial elements that pushed the U.S. Congress to declare the world's first national park -- Yellowstone -- Thomas Moran's paintings and William Henry Jackson's photographs -- the very first use of what is now called conservation photography. These cultural tools conveyed the scale, splendor, and singularity of the greater Yellowstone region, and they fired-up a global movement that continues to expand in the 21st century.

Our latest cultural tool is a rap album "The Rap Guide to Wilderness" which communicates some of the enthusiasm of Wilson and Goodall and, yes, even some of their science -- but in a new and infectious format. Rap songs are attention-grabbing and catchy. They boldly proclaim their message and make it easy to internalize and hard to forget, and they can get your head bobbing and your toes tapping as well. Wilderness conservation and rap may seem like strange bedfellows, but our mentality is "whatever works" and, thus far, the response from conservationists and media has been incredible.

It's the start of a new year and we need new ways to get the message out there. Climate change is a threat, wilderness is necessary as a solution, and we're all better off with more of wild nature intact. So seek out strange bedfellows, build relationships and make surprising connections, and add your part to the cultural chorus giving a voice to the call of the wild.

Vance G. Martin, President, The Wild Foundation