I will start this article with some personal life news. I have officially started my Masters program and am now studying social marketing in the beautiful city of Brighton, England! I will now be living my #studentlife on the sea coast.
One really interesting thing about my program is that there are 61 people studying marketing, and only about 10 people are British. So much for finding a friend with a castle…. As the official Canadian representative in this extremely diverse group of people, I have been responsible for describing Canadian culture. One thing that people are particularly interested in is the amount of natural areas we have in Canada (I have been telling good stories about how Kaylyn Echlin isn’t allowed to leave her house sometimes because of bears). It is true that 90% of Canada is uninhabited. In this way, the attitude towards natural conservation is similar to attitudes towards water in Canada, in the sense that citizens have the perception that we have enough in our country and it isn’t something we need to worry about. However, like with water we should be concerned with natural area conservation in this country, but not how much we conserve, rather where it is being conserved.
For one thing, a major reason why the majority of Canada is so empty is that it is too cold to live in most areas. A lot of the land is arctic tundra, which for one thing means it is not as productive as other land in creating ecosystem service (more on that later) but also that we are conserving one type of land out of convenience, and therefore destroying most other types of ecosystems, threatening our biodiversity (yes, we will talk about that later as well. Confused? Let me expand a bit more on why we need to be preserving natural ecosystems in the first place.
Ecosystems: Nature’s Factories
First, let’s start with a definition. According to Wikipedia, (because it’s easy to search, and it is also right), an ecosystem is “a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system.”
Ecosystems are incredibly important to humans because of the services they provide for use, known as ecosystem services. The services provided by ecosystems are diverse and range from cultural services, such as a space for human leisure activities, to regulating services, such as ensuring that water and air are filtered and purified in a way that is healthy for humans. Even without these immediate benefits of have natural areas around you, keeping a diverse “bank” of natural areas is helpful to maintain biodiversity. We use different plants for many different things, and the more species we have on this planet the better it is. Again, if we are looking for an example that illustrates purely the benefits to humans we can look at the number of natural plants that we use and are currently testing for medicinal benefits. We don’t want the flowers with the properties to cure certain illnesses to be wiped out by clear-cutting the rainforest! And let’s not forget our fuzzy little friends! Ecosystems are very fragile and in order to protect natural areas and keep the balance, we need to protect both the flora and the fauna.
Ecosystems have a very high value to humans, and in order to maximize out benefits we must ensure that, like human capital or financial capital, we consider keeping some natural capital. This natural capital needs to be high in quantity and quality. We need to ensure that it is spread out and that there is enough in all the areas where people live to support their needs.
Threats to ecosystems
Now that we better understand the importance of ecosystem conservation, let’s look at where the danger is.
WWF claims farming to be “the greatest threat to species and ecosystems”. From “slash-and-burn” farming in developing countries, to fertilizer and pesticide use in developed countries, unsustainable farming practices can damage and even destroy ecosystems. Not to mention that a growing population means more food production and therefore, more farmland.
This, of course, is a big one. As rainfall and temperatures change around the world, species will need to adapt. Some plants and animals will need to migrate north or south to find a climate that it can survive in, and others simply won’t survive. It is difficult (impossible) to predict all the changes that a changing climate will bring, but we know they are coming. In fact change is already here, just look at the Mountain Pine Beetle in British Columbia.
Cultural Beliefs and human “desires”
What do shark fin, rhino horn and elephant ivory all have in common? They all have cultural significance, and all result in the death or serious impairment of an endangered species. Where there is demand for a product, humans will find a way to deliver it and make money. Just ask Walter Palmer, someone was able to find him a lion.
Social Marketing and Conservation
Though I am sure many more examples exist, I think these are some of the major threats to conservation right now that social marketers need to focus on. And they are. There are great examples of social marketing campaigns from each of these categories. This month, we will be talking more about social marketing campaigns that address these threats to conserve nature and create a better world for you and me.
Alison Carlyle is a #foreverstudent and environmental enthusiast studying social marketing at the University of Brighton in England. She is trying to blend in with the Brits by eating beans in tomato sauce at least once a day. Follow her on Twitter or LinkIn with her.
Photo Credit: Julie Leeming