Ecological Restoration
Vol. 23 Number 4

Restoring the Future

Human actions are depleting Earth’s natural capital, putting such strain on the environment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted,” warns the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a four-year study sponsored by the United Nations.

Over 1,300 scientists and researchers from more than 95 countries collaborated to assess 24 of the Earth’s primary ecosystems that support human survival. Their conclusions are both surprising and staggering. They concluded that the ongoing degradation of15 of the 24 ecosystems is substantial, with serious adverse effects on their capacity to support future human needs. Future threats include the emergence of new diseases, sudden changes in water quality, creation of “dead zones” in ocean shelf areas along coasts, the collapse of fisheries and climate change, and more.

The report goes on to suggest that, “The overriding conclusion of this assessment is that it lies with the power of human societies to ease the strains we are putting on the natural services of the planet, while continuing to use them to bring better living standards to all. Achieving this will require radical changes in the way nature is treated at every level of decision making”.
Soon after this report was published, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus authored a report for the Environmental Grantmakers Association titled, “The Death of Environmentalism”. These authors argued that:

  • No environmental leader is articulating a vision of the future commensurate with the magnitude of the crisis (in reference to climate change).
  • Environmentalism is defined too narrowly, focused mostly on technological solutions to saving ‘things’, not people and jobs.
  • Leaders of the environmental movement have failed to build robust political coalitions, articulate a coherent morality and figure out who we are and who we need to be.

Their conclusion is that environmentalism needs to die a timely death and be resurrected with a robust progressive movement with issues reframed to generate wider public acceptance.

While the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report and the Death of Environmentalism point out both the magnitude of the problem and our ineffectiveness of dealing with these challenges, they don’t acknowledge the role that ecological restoration can play in reversing the tide.

If there ever was an environmental movement that is articulating a vision of the future commensurate with the magnitude of the crisis that will require radical changes in the way nature is treated at every level of decision making, that is poised to lead the environmental movement in a renewed spirit of a positive future, it is ecological restoration.

Ecological restoration is that of a better tomorrow, where ecological processes, functions and attributes are restored. It is a better, more promising future. While conservation plays a critical role in protecting the past, it is ecological restoration that restores the future.

I would argue that ecological restoration is inherently not focused on technological solutions, but rather is sustained and nurtured by people. Restoration is not a passive act, but rather an active choice, that requires people to interact with the earth and all of its life and splendor. Ecological restoration is about restoring people’s sense of place, sense of awe and sense of worth – through direct participation.

Ecological restoration is the key to the future. Through ecological restoration other pressing environmental and social causes can and will be addressed, including equity, security and prosperity.

Ecological restoration is the reframed environmental movement. By the vary nature of what we are all about, there is every reason to believe that we are perfectly poised to lead a resurrected environmental movement, how – by Restoring the Future. Most of all, ecological restoration is about ‘restoring our fate’.

Imagine the headlines of the next Millennium Ecosystem report, “The Future Restored!”

Keith Bowers, Chair
Society for Ecological Restoration International

Further Reading

Meet Landscape Designer Emma Podietz
Get to Know Ecologist Caroline Hildebrand
Get to know Water Resources Engineer Nate Wadley
Biohabitats Senior Engineer & Practice Leader, Erin English, on the Rewilding Earth Podcast
Meet Integrated Water Resources Engineer Helen Little

More From This Author

Biodiversity and the Farm of the Future
Learning from Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Ecological Restoration: In the year…
The Cost of Restoration
Landscape Urbanism vs. New Urbanism: Who cares? Both are missing the point!