A baby born in India was recently selected to represent the seven billionth person added to the world. It’s clear that Homo sapiens sapiens, at least for now, aren’t in any eminent danger of going extinct.
That can’t be said for many other species, however, that share this blue planet with us. In fact, our very proliferation may mean that others will soon disappear. Our kind are consuming or polluting the “lion’s share” of the Earth’s natural resources, such as water, air, and forest cover. It’s been shown that as our numbers go up, so do the numbers of plant and animal extinctions.
The world often feels crowded. Just go to a mall, a movie theater, or the Department of Motor Vehicles. Perhaps that’s why many of us run way from our cities, every chance we get, to take a vacation in the most pristine and uninhabited places we can find: wild, remote nature.
What you may be surprised to learn, however, is that our big cities may be the most conservation-conscious places we can live.
Concentration for …
Many of us who read the works of Henry David Thoreau in high school eventually come to a point in life where we begin to believe that a cabin in the woods is the ideal to strive for. As our “inner conservationists” begin to emerge as we mature, we yearn to leave the city for the suburb, and subsequently, the suburb for the country. On the weekends, we try to “escape” our cities to go hiking and camping in parks, refuges, and remote areas. We go to the mountains.
For us, cities begin to be cast as “the enemy”; pools of pollution and wells of habitat degradation. But today, that’s far from the truth. By having the majority of the seven billion of us residing in cities, we may already be doing the greenest thing we can do.
In developed countries and in Latin America, according to the National Geographic Society, more than 70 percent of the people live in urban areas. When we concentrate ourselves in cities, the space between us is reduced. That means that the cost to the environment of transporting goods, people, and even ideas is less. When we live in a big city, we don’t need to drive very far to get where we need to go and to get what we need to get, cutting down on fossil fuel consumption and air pollution. In fact, in a city, many of us don’t need to use a car at all. We walk. And apartments take less energy to heat and cool than houses.
Some of our best successes in river cleanup have been in and near large cities. And a small stand of trees in an urban park can mitigate what’s known as the “urban heat island effect,” neutralizing an amount of carbon emissions not possible by a same-size woods in an area where people are more spread out.
And unlike what we might imagine, our cities are not bereft of nature. Animals such as white-tailed deer, Canada geese, and coyotes have adapted well to our urban areas. As we learn more and more about the benefits that people derive from being in nature — from making us happier to growing the size of our brains — we’re beginning to understand that a small, green space within a city may benefit far more of us than a reserve in a backcountry, remote area, since 70 percent of us would actually have access to that smaller, green space.
Within our lifetimes — since 1968 — the world’s population has doubled. The United Nation predicts it will hit ten billion by this century’s end. Despite our ingrained inclinations to want to become nouveau Henry David Thoreaus — running away from the city for our cabin in the woods — the best way to conserve nature may be to flee to the metropolis.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,