March 3rd is World Wildlife Day, designated by the UN to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants. This year, it’s all about forests. What’s so important about forests? What issues do we face with forest protection? And what are some ways we can celebrate World Wildlife Day?
The theme that the UN designated for World Wildlife Day in 2021 is “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet”. According to the UN, it is to “highlight the central role of forests, forest species and ecosystem services in sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people globally, and particularly of Indigenous and local communities with historic ties to forested and forest-adjacent areas.”
It’s a human rights issue too
Just how many people depend on these forests? According to the UN, “Between 200 and 350 million people live within or adjacent to forested areas around the world, relying on the various ecosystem services provided by forest and forest species for their livelihoods and to cover their most basic needs, including food, shelter, energy and medicines.” (In fact, Greenpeace puts the number of people who depend on forests for their livelihoods at 1.2 to 1.7 billion).
And because they depend so heavily on these ecosystems, they often model the way for better human relationships with nature. “Indigenous peoples and local communities are at the forefront of the symbiotic relationship between humans and forest, forest-dwelling wildlife species and the ecosystem services they provide.” In fact, Indigenous peoples manage 28% of the world’s land surface, “including some of the most ecologically intact forests on the planet.” (Not to mention, 80% of global diversity!) These forests “are not only central to their economic and personal well-being, but also to their cultural identities.”
Unfortunately, forests, and livelihoods that depend on them, are under siege. According to Greenpeace, half of the world’s forests have disappeared, and only 20% of what remains is intact. The world loses more than 23 million acres of forest area every year. Forests worldwide are facing multiple planetary crises, not to mention the crisis of capitalism, which is squeezing our forests dry.
Hence, the UN has designated March 3rd this year to celebrate forest-based livelihoods, promote sustainable forest wildlife management models and practices, and promote the value for traditional practices and knowledge. But how do we celebrate it? Here are some ideas…
Learn about the climate crisis
Remember how in the first week of 2020, the Australian fires dominated most of our social media feeds? That was an example of the climate crisis in action. Because of climate change, the conditions were hotter and drier, extending the fire season and making it much more dangerous. Fires like the ones in Australia (and California) have been said to make turn our forests into net emitters rather than absorbers of carbon. This should be alarming in itself, but that coupled with the extinction crisis that’s worsened by these forest fires? Terrifying.
Learn about deforestation
Possibly the biggest issue facing forests right now is deforestation, which is a complex problem with many driving factors. Speaking of the Australian fires, remember the Amazon fires in 2019? That one was a combination of many of those driving factors. Including illegal loggers and miners looking to make a profit (while driving away Indigenous communities), poor and corrupt governance, and of course ever-increasing consumption of products involving these forests.
One of those products is meat. The agro-industrial complex is deeply complicit in the ongoing deforestation crisis and the war on Indigenous communities. More recently, in October last year, Paraguay was on fire, which was a result of the nexus of government and corporate power, enabled by the agro-industrial complex. A deep examination of what happened last year—which is not to say that it’s no longer happening—will reveal that it’s not as simple as ditching meat. Or boycotting forestry products. So what is it about?
Support Indigenous communities
Indigenous peoples are at the frontline of these crises. Not only are they the ones who are most deeply affected by forests coming under siege, but they also tend to be the ones who protect these forests the most. (Unsurprisingly). And yet, Indigenous people are not put in positions to influence policy decisions and development initiatives that affect their communities. This means that they are disproportionately affected and lack institutional support and empowerment. (And Indigenous science is hardly recognised as “real” science).
It’s hard to imagine being able to do anything about such structural issues, yes. But one thing that we can do is redistribute wealth and power when we can. Support Indigenous people. Show up for them, follow them on social media to keep up with what’s going on. Donate to organisations that they lead. Buy from Indigenous-owned businesses. Read books written by Indigenous peoples (a popular one to start with is Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer). Keep unlearning.
Take a moment to reflect
This is not exactly related to everything else listed above, but it is an easy action you can take. Take a moment to reflect on your relationship with forests. Better yet, if it’s accessible to you, go forest-bathe for a little bit. Or do any activity that immerses you in a forest of some sort. Check out Dr. Fuschia Hoover’s A Black Girl’s Guide to Foraging, or artist Annika Hansteen-Izora’s gratitude practice, which involves thinking about how you’re grateful for everything around you, including the Earth. If you don’t live near a forest, then think about things in your life that wouldn’t be possible without them. Or any experiences you’ve had in them. How do forests make you feel? How are they integral to our lives? After all, if we can’t ourselves feel connected to forests, how can we ever protect them?
It’s also worth mentioning that it’s good to reflect on the importance of forests aside from our use of them. Forests are important… because they give life and are life. And that’s something that Indigenous peoples understand and respect. And along with that sentiment, here are some reads to add to your list. Check out The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and one of my personal favourites: The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Tsing. Or if you’re in the mood for an essay, read The Understory by Robert Macfarlane for Emergence Magazine.
Any recommendations we missed? Or what are some other ways you’re celebrating World Wildlife Day this year?
Featured image: Eric Bézine via Flickr
Help us keep our content free
It seems like you enjoyed our content and are on your way to better understanding how to be more conscious. As you’ll know, we’re on a mission to make sustainability accessible, mainstream and sexy. And we would not be able to do it with you. We would love you to support us even further in our GITNB movement by helping us create even more content to keep inspiring you and the rest of the world. Aside from being able to enjoy even better reads, you’ll also receive a GITNB t-shirt consciously made from upcycled fabrics in partnership with a Cambodian social enterprise supporting women. For a small donation you will make a huge difference.SUPPORT US HERE