And What You Do To Help Counts Big-time.
Did you know that back in December, one of the most important planetary environmental agreements in history got approved in Montreal? This would be the “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework” (GBF), approved by the 15th Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which clearly states the goal of protecting, conserving, and restoring 30% of Earth’s lands and waters by 2030. Not only was another opening created for the concept that non-human species have the right to exist and live their lives according to their kind in appropriate habitats, but indigenous peoples were included and given their due as primary keepers of land. If countries actually follow through on commitments (one of the biggest ifs) there might be a chance that biodiversity could start recovering, and we might have a chance of getting to half-earth by 2050. By providing enough habitat for 80% of species on earth, the worst effects of the sixth extinction might be avoided. And by the way, assuming we also get emissions under control, the worst of climate change would be ameliorated, and the human race could also avoid extinction—because if we don’t do both we are sunk as a species.
If you didn’t hear about the conference, it’s not surprising. I myself am a little obsessive about 30×30, and was following progress like a fangirl. However, it seems few media outlets felt it was much worth covering, compared to wars of choice by terrorist states, celebrity doings, politics, the latest “culture war” blow-ups—all those things that conspire to distract from the fact that ecosystems around the world are in danger of collapsing, and global society with them. Not only that, but many (not all) members of the environmental community concerned with climate change are extremely focused on renewable energy and, of course, EVs, to the near exclusion of natural systems. Yup, giant, energy-and-resource-hogging electric pickups and SUVs will definitely turn the trick. (Somehow, I envision a hot, hot future in which our roads remain clogged with traffic and pedestrian/cyclist deaths continue to rise, but hey, we’re sort of cutting emissions while still living large, so there’s that.) In other words, you had to tune out all that noise, and search a little farther than your regular news feed to realize Cop15 was even going on in the first place and what the stakes truly are.
Even after this momentous agreement got formulated and signed, it dropped like a stone and the waters of the informational flood covered it over. A random search such as “30×30 news” turns up very little. And yet the COP 15 document is conceivably one of the most important, forward-looking agreements in history. Yes, it’s couched in drab, institutional language. Yes, there are items and wording to irritate and offend nearly everyone, one way or another. Yes, it’s aspirational. No, of course the US is not exactly part of it. And yes, the window of opportunity is closing as you read this.
What is to be done to help achieve these audacious goals if you care about such things at all? Especially if you have embraced the new, holistic worldview that rightly insists that this climate/biodiversity bottleneck we’re traveling through could possibly have better outcomes for humans and other species than the doomsayers and worse, the doom enablers, insist on, in word, inaction, and destructive action?
Will Governments Follow Through?
Here in the US, though Bill Clinton signed the Convention on Biodiversity, the Senate has never ratified the global treaty, and likely won’t, because it would require a two-thirds majority, and what Republicans would agree to such a thing? In 2021, President Biden did sign the America the Beautiful executive order, with its eight laudatory goals and includes 30×30 language, putting the US more or less in line with the COP15 agreement. We did have a representative at COP15 in Montreal. However, it is painful that our country cannot actually join the nearly 200 countries that signed. Only the US and the Vatican have not.
Regarding actual and practical 30×30 implementation, conventional wisdom would clearly be that the agreement sounds good, countries might make some kind of effort and tout their progress, but they won’t actually undertake the serious work of protection and restoration that would achieve the 30×30 goal. Yet more greenwashing opportunities! On a global scale! However, it’s worth at least something that so much of the world agrees that 30×30 and biodiversity protection are important. Rather than taking a cynical stance, a person with that hopeful but not optimistic, holistic worldview might decide to eschew cynicism, and with a beginner’s mind decide to take the agreement at face value and see what they could do to make it happen. There are worse ways to spend one’s time.
From here in Illinois, it’s hard for an ordinary citizen such as myself to really grasp what difference the COP15 agreement will make, especially since the last set of goals the Conference of the Parties agreed on have notably not been met. Nor is it possible to ascertain what is happening with the America the Beautiful initiative, or what the federal agencies are doing to make the important goals they have developed come to fruition. They’re talking a good game, and some grant funding has recently been made available by entities such as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, but too many agencies last updated their 30×30 webpages in 2021.
However, there is action on other fronts. For one thing, a new coalition, America the Beautiful for All, made up of American NGOs from diverse sectors has come together to support 30×30. The coalition—composed of an incredibly broad range of members, from big time environmental groups to indigenous and environmental justice groups–has formulated a series of bold policy goals that were released last month. In Illinois, the General Assembly passed a law creating a 30×30 Task Force that would develop goals for protecting Illinois lands and waters. This the Task Force did, headed by the Department of Natural Resources, and submitted its report in fall of 2022.
So far, so good, right? Maybe. Except few people I’ve talked to, even committed environmentalists and conservationists, are aware of COP15, have heard of the America the Beautiful initiative, or the America the Beautiful for All coalition, much less the Illinois 30×30 Task Force and report. And as for the last, it appears to be yet another set of recommendations that get written up, glanced at cursorily, and then shelved. Though the Task Force was announced publicly with some fanfare, the final report was simply uploaded to the website one day in September, 2022, and that was that. The report outlined clear goals and made good recommendations, including the creation of a group that would figure out how to actually implement the recommended strategies and tactics. That would be nice, but so far, crickets.
Who knows if anyone with the power to take the next recommended steps, such as Governor J.B. Pritzker or leaders in the State Legislature, actually read it, much less responded. Emails to the IDNR about the report’s fate were either not answered, or answered to the effect of, we have a communications plan, and we’ll publicize it at some point, no telling when. During a panel discussion at this month’s Wild Things conference, the Task Force’s chair, IDNR Assistant Director John Rogner, talked about the importance of 30×30, touted the completed report and then…quickly moved on to the next topic, in that classic signal of bureaucratic mothballing. Unfortunately, the moderator did not follow up on what would happen next, and there was no opportunity for the audience to ask questions. More apparent greenwashing. Yet I know for a fact that Rogner is a man who has devoted his life to the wildlands and wildlife of Illinois. What gives?
Local Action is Important
It is for these reasons that I believe that anything truly meaningful is going to have to be accomplished locally, if not hyper-locally, person by person, neighborhood by neighborhood, organization by organization, town by town, county by county. After a while you might get regional effects. This is particularly important in the crowded, urban and suburban Midwest and East. There’s simply not that much open, public land in the thousands of acres to set aside. Nevertheless, every patch counts. It’s long been known that when those wild patches link up to form nodes and corridors of habitat for wildlife, native plants, and other organisms, biodiversity can thrive. This could happen even through the corn/soy deserts of Illinois and similarly decimated landscapes elsewhere.
And here, I do have a little more, if not exactly hope, at least semi-confidence that good work is underway. A wide range of individuals and groups are already doing the work of conservation and restoration, even if it’s not officially under the 30×30 aegis (though some of it is). In northern Illinois, at least, genuine progress is being made. For example, the Cook County Forest Preserves control and protect about 70,000 acres, or 11% of land in the county. Ten or twelve years ago about 5,000 acres of that total were under the kind of active management and restoration that genuinely increases biodiversity; now the number has increased to 15,000 acres. Along the Chicago lakefront, the Burnham Wildlife Corridor runs south from McCormick Place to 47th street and provides sanctuary for hundreds of species of plants and animals, as well as humans.
In the private sector, I serve on the board of West Cook Wild Ones, which advocates for native plant gardens and landscaping, mainly on private property. Ten years ago, they set the goal of creating a corridor of native plant gardens between Chicago’s Columbus Park and Thatcher Woods Forest Preserve along the Des Plaines River in River Forest. They’ve accomplished this, the number of gardens keep growing, and the organization keeps educating and advocating for more.
Other organizations, such as [email protected], Chicago Living Corridors, and other Wild Ones chapters do similar work throughout the Chicago metro region, into the collar counties and beyond. The Chicago Wilderness Alliance, the Illinois Environmental Council, the Illinois Native Plant Society, the ROW initiative based at University of Illinois at Chicago, the Field Museum, the Morton Arboretum—all of these groups are working on the science, the practicalities, and the policy and coalition building needed to get 30×30 done. Municipalities are stepping up, too. For example, the village of Oak Park recently approved and currently is budgeting for and enacting a climate action plan that includes 30×30 in its five overarching goals. If only the agricultural organizations and farmers would step up. Rewilded corridors through the mid-state industrial corn and soy region could improve matters on an international scale, once you take migratory birds into account.
Everything You Do to Help Counts
So, what can individuals do? 30×30 is fractal and works at any scale. What counts is learning about the issue and using your abilities to help make habitat for wild, native, non-human species, whether it’s protected, conserved, restored, or newly established.
Get hands on: If you have a backyard, use thirty percent of it for a native plant garden hospitable to birds and pollinators and then register it with one of the many conservation organizations that are mapping gardeners’ efforts. Join with your neighbors and make a block-long pollinator parkway out front. Plant native shrubs, flowers and grasses in your community garden. Volunteer in a local forest preserve.
Get involved in local governance: Join your HOA board, park district board or local gardening group and advocate for native plant landscaping, mentioning 30×30 early and often. Query your local politicians and work to elect environmentally-oriented candidates. If your town is making a climate action plan, push for 30×30 and biodiversity goals—and then keep pushing to make sure that plan is enacted.
Advocate: Talk with friends, neighbors and relatives. Join a policy or political action group focused on conservation and 30×30. Support the work of your conservation district, forest preserve district, and local native plant gardening group. Fight needless, new development on wild, open land, and campaign for redevelopment instead.
Get active on social media: make TikTok videos about biodiversity and 30×30, or share 30×30 news on Facebook, and 30×30 examples on Instagram. Let people know what you are doing, and encourage them to do the same.
Remember, if you are creating or advocating for better bird habitat, or planting milkweed for monarchs, you too are helping 30×30. If you are a hunter or fisher and want to protect and conserve habitat to support wildlife, you, too are helping 30×30. If you are a farmer and you put some of your least productive acreage back to native plants, whether as a native-species shelter belt, woodlot or prairie, you, too are helping 30×30, and helping stave off biodiversity loss. Backyard by backyard, acre by acre, it will add up—especially if we join in with others to do the work. Because this work adds up, it scales, and groups can do what individuals can’t.
There is something every single person can do, one way or another, according to personality, inclination, and talents. I’m focused on the Chicago region; but I know that efforts are being made all across the country. 30×30 will not look the same in all places. There is room for everyone and every ecosystem at this table, and for every type of place. This work will take effort: entrenched interests are many and powerful and they are augmented and abetted by the vast tribe of the apathetic and uninterested. Yet, this work is peacefully subversive and is a real, tangible way of improving life for everyone involved, humans and non-humans. It’s blessed unrest. It’s as simple and satisfying as starting and maintaining a native plant garden. It can be as hard and frustrating as holding large, monied interests and politicians to account. And everything in between. Won’t you join in?