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Protecting biodiversity: the power of the individual

Individuals hold significant power and responsibility in safeguarding biodiversity. This involves gaining knowledge about biodiversity, understanding our actions' effects on ecosystems, and making eco-friendly consumer choices. It's also crucial to reuse and recycle, engage in citizen science projects, and spread the passion for biodiversity. Created by California Academy of Sciences.

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Video transcript

(inspirational music) - [Narrator] Individuals can make a difference in the protection of biodiversity. So here, I want to talk about the power and obligation of the individual to make that difference. We can start with this idea of learning about biodiversity. We often talk about the symbiosis of science and education, and the importance of good science feeding good education. These days, you can get that education through mass media, through reading and experiencing things on the Internet, but also through classes, formal and informal lectures, and just opening up dialogues with people who make biodiversity studies their life and their concern. But most of all, you need to get out there and experience biodiversity first-hand. You have to experience biodiversity, I think, to understand how it fits in the hearts of the people who make it their area of study, who make it their life's passion. It can your entire life in a new light. I find it shocking sometimes to realize how few people make the connection between biodiversity and say, where they get their food. Arguably the most direct way that we can be a part of what needs to become a mass movement to protect biodiversity is to start thinking about what effect our actions have on ecosystem function and ecosystem services. With an increase in human population, there's increased pressure on all of us to do more with less, increasing our responsibility to exercise that power of the individual. Whenever you're being a consumer of anything, that's food, clothing, particularly energy, ask yourself, where does it come from? How does production affect biodiversity and sustainability of the resources from which a given product is derived? Think about the answer to that. Learn about the sources of what you use. And make the most responsible choices possible. Remember too that companies want to sell stuff that people want to buy, so if you're a consumer that tells them that you want to buy sustainable products, they'll listen. Now there's power. There are lots of examples of that, so whenever you're walking around thinking about how to spend your money in ways that draw resources from the environment, think about making that an investment in sustainability. The other thing that's helpful is to reuse things. We're not talking about recycling yet. This is one step before the recycling bin. We're talking about things that can be repaired instead of thrown away, or repurposed to become useful in a new way, like using an old worn T-shirt as a reusable rag to wash windows instead of using disposable paper towels. In developed countries, we live in such a throwaway society. We can change that. Instead of replacing something right away, think about how to repair or reuse it. I personally feel that fixing stuff is an essential part of being a human. Exercising your curiosity and intelligence to learn about how things work is never bad, especially to improve your surroundings and help conserve Earth's resources. Sew a button back on. Darn a sock, sharpen a knife, figure out how to put a new washer in your tap so that it stops dripping and wasting water. These are skills that, to me, were once so natural, but that now we've kinda lost touch with. And with the Internet, it's easier than ever to get a quick lesson on how to do these things. Make yourself evermore indispensable to your family, your friends and your neighbors. Then recycle everything you can, and surprisingly, almost everything is recyclable. Batteries, electronics, paper, plastics and metals, almost everything has components in it that someone else's gonna wanna have at some level in some form. There's a whole economy set up for that. There are businesses established on the basis of recovering these sometimes really valuable components. You don't even have to take all these things somewhere special. There are programs for picking up all these things right from your home in almost every large city. Even your organic compostables can be picked up and used by specialized businesses to make them usable for agriculture. These companies do so with an economic model that is efficient at large scales, so you get economies in recycling and composting as well. Okay, so by themselves, recycling and composting might not save the world, but it's going to get us all a heck of a lot closer to that goal. It's all about one of my favorite metaphors, the stone in the pond making ripples that can reach all shores. You can involve others, share your enthusiasm for biodiversity, get them talking about all of these issues as well. Find out what their solutions have been. Tell them what your best practices might be and what works for you. It's amazing what people can come up with when they're challenged with a problem of not just what to do with garbage, but how to protect diversity. Anyone can be a part of the ripples, growing ideas outward and widening circles. And speaking of growing, you can start clubs that plant and tend biodiversity gardens of native plants. These gardens are specifically aimed at feeding a local populations of birds, butterflies, and other animals that come to the gardens, which actually set up little ecosystems that can enhance the biodiversity of neighborhoods. It starts locally and ripples outward. And speaking of ponds, you can help clean up lakes or wetlands. Or you can organize or take part in beach cleanups. Check the Internet for volunteer programs near you. And then there's citizen science, a great way to get involved through the avenues of research. Engaging in real data-gathering provides more observers of the natural world. We said before that there aren't enough scientists to do it all. There's still so much to know about what's out there, and how to monitor it. How to figure out how it's being affected by worldwide human activities, and how to minimize negative impacts. Every science project needs to result in data that can be formed into a conclusion. If you're going to have scientists collecting data, you need to be able to train them to collect the kinds of data that are crucial, the kinds of data that are gonna be germane to science. You need to provide some direction and guidance. During that process of training people to engage in science, you greatly enhance their awareness of biodiversity and why it's important. You plant these seeds in people's minds and they tell other folks, I'm involved in this really great citizen science project, and I think that kind of education at even the most basic level truly can change the world. Citizen science is not something that sprung up in the last five years. It actually goes all the way back to things like Christmas Bird Counts, I remember doing those when I was a kid going out in the dead of winter along the Toronto waterfront and freezing my butt off counting birds. I mean, this was something we did for fun, question mark. But the exploding number of citizen science projects in the last 10 years is staggering. These projects are doing a tremendous amount of good through sophisticated monitoring of ecosystems, figuring out what's there, feeding that information in a solid scientific way that leads, I think, to good science that we desperately need. Think about the Audubon Christmas Bird Counts. For decades, they've established an incredible baseline of data and they've expanded across the Western Hemisphere too. These important data led directly to our ability to document in real time the decline or shifts in ranges of certain bird species as awareness of climate change grew. Because the climate has changed since we started doing these counts, the involvement of birders on bird counts has become even more important. Another example is the roadkill project, set up by the State University of New York, using roadkills to monitor wildlife movements. You can actually upload photos of roadkills with data on the date and place, species and local speed limit for that road. These data can lead to direct recommendations for fences and signage to save both wildlife and humans. This is such a good citizen science project, it's now being adopted in Australia. The California Academy of Sciences' iNaturalist programs aims globally. It produces a worldwide network of informed scientists and citizens, combining forces in identifying and documenting nature locally to tackle issues in global biodiversity awareness and protection. The academy and other institutions hold BioBlitzes, mass surveys of targeted areas, aided by handheld devices and softwares that allow shared experiences at long-term monitoring of environments. Most of these sorts of projects represent monitoring efforts, gaining data through a sort of what I like to call a distributed telescope, aimed at nature, hundreds and even thousands of sets of eyes that can watch many things at the same time. These projects use new technologies available to many, smartphones and social networks, for example, resulting in data that can lead directly to management and policy change. A little knowledge goes a long way and lots of knowledge is nearly limitless. Anyone at any age, wherever you live, whatever you do, can make a difference. You can travel the many avenues for formal and informal education. Immerse yourself, be an activist, and find ways to increase your individual power to minimize negative impacts on the environment and the biodiversity that depends on it.