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Your Actions Can Make a Difference

The sixth mass extinction is underway, but we can still act if we act now

(Editor’s note)

To learn more about the sixth mass extinction:

What is a ‘mass extinction’ and are we in one now? Link.

Study: humans causing sixth extinction event on Earth. Link.

As the sixth mass extinction is already underway, we must realize that our actions at the individual level matter more than ever in conserving biodiversity. In the simplest term, biodiversity is the variability of species on our planet, and yet we’re losing species at an accelerated rate due to human activity. 

Living in Montreal, we may not realize how much our urban lifestyle depends on the environment. Way too often, we take our ecosystems for granted, such as the fresh air we breathe, clean water we drink, outdoor recreation spaces we jog in, and local farms where we get our food from. These services all rely on biodiversity to exist.  We must understand the gravity of what we’re facing. Without biodiversity, our lives will never be the same. 

Our consumption behaviours have an impact on biodiversity: plastic bags strangle animals, lights divert sea turtles from the ocean, cutting down forests destroys habitats for species. When animals disappear, the ecosystems they live in do too, and this means that ecosystem services important to us (potable water, fertile soil, clean air) disappear as well. 

Your actions matter

You don’t have to be a scientist with a Ph.D. working in rainforests to save biodiversity. You can help revert the trend now with your everyday actions – what we do here in Montreal matters. There are a variety of specific actions you can take, such as bringing your own cup to a cafe (post-pandemic) or boycotting over-wrapped merchandise. You can also shop local rather than at big-box stores, and remember, recycling is a myth—always reduce and reuse first. Even identifying a bird in your backyard can help, as the more people interested in knowing about biodiversity the better. Your actions can make a difference in biodiversity conservation. 

Community initiatives can help

Some actions are being taken to reduce plastic use. In 2018, the city of Montreal banned most plastic bags, following the trend of its southern neighbour, Brossard. People’s voices can also have an impact. With #thelaststraw, messages asking to stop using plastic straws circulated on social media. This widespread hashtag has even led major airlines to no longer use plastic items. The Canadian government is following the trend, committing to banning several single-use plastics by 2021. Approaches like these sparked by people and local initiatives have proven to be effective in reducing plastics, and saving wildlife from being entangled

However, we must also keep in mind that banning plastic straws is far from enough. To make a real difference, we must hold corporations accountable to not let them get away with self-congratulatory “greenwashing.”

Hold our governments accountable

Whenever there is a new infrastructure project, there is an Environmental Impact Assessment procedure. As a citizen, you have the right to express your concerns or objections to any planned project by consulting its Environmental Impact Statement and follow the procedure for public comment.

The proposed liquefied natural gas pipeline in the Saguenay region is a recent example. While the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) claims to care about climate change, the pipeline is projected to run for 25 years and release over 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon into the environment, which will jeopardize our efforts to build a green economy. Several petitions are currently in circulation to halt the construction.

You can be part of the grassroots movement

If you are feeling powerless in the face of mass extinction, you’re not alone. What we could accomplish as individuals is important but nevertheless, limited, which is why you can always get involved with a grassroots movement to amplify your impact. In Montreal area, you can join IceWatch, BIOPOLIS, and volunteer in bird surveys. If you would like to start your own citizen science initiative to collect data on your area’s biodiversity, there are funds to support you. 

Getting involved within your local community to save a patch of forest, an entire species, or bringing your own cup to reduce plastic waste, are the best things you can do for biodiversity conservation. Oh, and spread the word to your friends!

About the author:

Alexandra Zvezdin is an adventurer at heart, an ecologist by training, and a part-time artist. She likes to think about the many ways humans can impact outdoor spaces and the wildlife that inhabit them. This transcends the perspective she took in her most recent article “En route toward sustainable organic electronics”.