Photo by Audubon Nature Institute
The human connection to nature is more than physical. We rely on nature for survival, including food, water, and shelter, but lacking a connection to the other species we share this Earth with doesn’t only harm our physical selves - it affects our mental and spiritual selves, as well. As a part of nature, we are so deeply intertwined with natural cycles and the Earth’s balance that any disequilibrium impacts our inner well-being. Simply put, when we lack a connection to our environment, it creates a void that cannot be filled with anything else.
This connection to the living world must be considered when discussing solutions to the climate crisis. When we lose sight of it, we create false, short-term solutions, including displacing people from their ancestral homes for conservation purposes or exploiting more land in the name of renewable technology. However, when we understand that our species is an integral part of the functioning of natural cycles and accept this role, we are able to create solutions that are holistic, democratic, and beneficial for all living things.
A way to not only maintain our connection with the Earth but also mitigate climate change and halt biodiversity loss is through ecosystem restoration. Ecosystem restoration is an intergenerational effort to revive the functioning of ecosystems, from coral reefs to forests to deserts, where the balance has been disrupted (often due to human activity). Restoring degraded land symbolizes the restoration of what has been lost. It’s a reminder that nothing is truly permanent, and that it’s never too late to start caring about the planet.
Photo by Public Policy Institute of California
As ecosystems return to normal or healthy conditions, they experience ecological restoration. Restoring an area isn’t merely about the number of species returned - it’s also about how well everything works together since nature is complex, dynamic, and ever-changing. Intraspecies and interspecies relationships are what keep ecosystems adaptable and flexible to global changes. When we participate in ecological restoration, we rebuild relationships between plants, animals, and people.
There are a number of ways to carry out ecosystem restoration. Each region will require different needs depending on the severity of the damage, what type of pollution or degradation has occurred, and what resources are available.
A few ways to restore an ecosystem include:
Regenerative agriculture improves soil health, promotes biodiversity, and creates wildlife habitats. By re-establishing carbon and water cycles, regenerative agriculture prioritizes the health of people and animals over profit. Crop yields remain high because soil microbial activity is abundant, but only what is needed is produced - nothing more. Growing Roots brings regenerative agriculture to an inner-city Los Angeles neighborhood, transforming the concrete landscape into a haven for wildlife and fresh produce.
The restoration of freshwater and coastal wetlands revives water sources, fosters growth of plants and animals, and, as a bonus, sequesters carbon. Coastal communities, including fish and people with livelihoods dependent on the shoreline, once again find their place in the local ecosystem. Mangrove Action Project educates and advocates for the importance of mangroves in protecting coastline communities and mitigating climate change. It also brings people from different sectors together, from policy to forest communities, to design mangrove rehabilitation and preservation plans.
Reforestation reverses deforestation, reviving what was lost. The many benefits of trees such as water filtration, reduction of air pollution, and cooling down the area improve the well-being of local residents, both human and nonhuman. Reforestation can occur even in urban areas through mini forests. By working with local communities to plant trees, Eden Projects revives forests worldwide while creating conservation-centered jobs.
It’s important to mention that ecosystem restoration does not signify recreating exactly what existed before the degradation. As long as the land is no longer degraded, damaged, or destroyed, it is restored. It’s also worth mentioning that regenerative action can be taken by anybody anywhere. The willingness to start and commit is all it takes. Once we dedicate ourselves to the process and partner with other living things, we witness the enormous power of ecological restoration. Landscapes transform from bare dirt to soil that supports life. Water gets absorbed into the soil, rather than flooding and causing erosion. The land regains its ability to provide an abundance of healthy food, alleviating poverty and hunger. The possibilities are endless. But first, we have to be active participants in regeneration. We alone cannot carry out ecological restoration, but thankfully we don’t have to do it alone. As restoration practitioners, our job is to create the conditions needed for recovery so that other species can fulfill their duties. When we collaborate with other species, we become a part of the whole, and that is when true restoration takes place.