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Protecting our planet

Happy New Year! To kick off 2020, I want to take a few minutes to reflect upon the challenges that lie before us, hope for future possibilities, and the universal value of protection.

Humans, our surrounding environment, and the other species we share the planet with are interconnected in a complex web. Exciting, surprising, and sometimes even frightening discoveries are still made with such frequency, it reminds us that we still don’t know everything about these connections and the awe-inspiring nature around us. What we do know is that we cannot survive without preserving the precious resources that are tied to our food, medicines, energy, shelter, water, and other essential needs. I think it’s fair to say that it’s a universal value to want to protect the people and places that have meaning to us. In 2020, just like in years past, this includes protecting them from issues arising in our environment.

Non-renewable resources, production of greenhouse gas emissions, and resulting changing environment and weather patterns are affecting animal habitats and human lives. While the use of fossil fuels has created opportunity for innovation, the burning of these fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, which allow sunlight to pass through but trap the accompanying heat, much like the glass walls of a greenhouse. The gas we put in our cars, the oil used to make plastic, and coal burned at power-plants to supply our electricity are all examples of fossil fuels. The results are changes to habitats, animal behavior, weather and more.

One example of how this affects wildlife is that warmer temperatures during incubation of nests of green sea turtles, an already endangered species, are leading to a skewing of the ratio of male to female hatchlings. Sex of offspring is determined by temperature of the nest, so this additional factor is having an observable effect on the species. Another example that we can relate to species right here at Zoo Atlanta is the effect on the African savanna grassland habitat. Tropical savannas, including the iconic African savanna, are at risk from livestock overgrazing and ecological changes due to changing environmental conditions. Researchers have found that increasing atmospheric CO2 coincided with an increase in the rate of woody plant growth. These larger species compete with edible grass species, which support many species, for water and other resources. This affects elephants, zebras, ostriches, rhinos, and all of the wild savanna’s inhabitants. These are just two very narrowly focused examples, but there are infinitely more.

In addition to the effect that will then ripple to humans from the impacts on other species, there are more direct impacts on us too. Changes to our environment, extreme weather events, and drought or increased rainfall affect agriculture and the people who grow our food. Rising sea levels lead to erosion and storm surges effect coastal populations. Even human health can be affected. Heat exhaustion, increased exposure to toxins, poorer air quality, and increased spread of disease are just a few examples.

We know a lot is at stake, and we know we want to change the course we’ve been on. What can we do? Luckily, there is good news and you have power as an individual to make real changes. Here are a few tips to help reduce your ecological footprint and contribute to the protection of our planet:

1. Wash laundry on cold. Heating up the water uses more energy, so washing on cold means reducing the energy you are using.
2. Buy locally grown produce and other products when possible. Less fuel is used in transport of locally grown and made items, and you’ll also be supporting your local economy.
3. Unplug items when not in use, especially things that you aren’t using often. Did you know that many electronic devices use energy if they are plugged in, even if they are not switched on?
4. Try Meatless Mondays. Livestock (beef production in particular) contributes a large amount of greenhouse gases (methane).
5. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Repurpose. Consider how much waste we produce on a daily basis, and find places in your life where you can integrate the four 4 R’s where you have not previously.
6. Skip the single use straws and plastic bags, and go for reusable options like stainless steel, glass, silicone straws, and canvas bags.
7. Spread the word. Share what you know with others through social media and word of mouth. Encourage others to adopt practices that will have a positive impact.
8. Use your dollars as a consumer. What you buy sends a message to companies. Support companies that have environmentally friendly policies and practices. If they don’t, reach out to them and ask them to do so. Your voice matters and makes a difference.

The future can be a bright, hopeful one for everyone, if we consider our connections to nature, how much we need it, and then make changes that have positive impact! Continue to follow our Conservation Blog throughout the year for more tips on how to be the change and to read highlights of some of the ways Zoo Atlanta is helping.

“…When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Foreword, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold.

Melissa King
Manager of Public Programs

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl