It’s been a cruel summer. The pandemic continues to rage, while large parts of the world are on fire. Last week, a major UN report warned that time is running out to keep global warming within manageable (though still crisis-inducing) limits.
Yet in the face of these threats, research continues to offer innovative ways to rethink humanity’s relationship with the natural world, and potentially avoid the worst impacts of the damage that “business as usual” has caused. Case in point: a research paper, published in Nature Food on the same day as the IPCC report, proposes developing a “circular bioeconomy,” which the authors say could address the conjoined challenges of biodiversity decline and climate change. The answer, they say, lies in the way we use biomass.
Biomass describes any organic material that comes from plants and animals. From vegetables and meat for human and animal consumption, to raw materials for clothing, to crops and matter used to create fuels, we’re reliant on it. But the way we use biomass is extremely extractive: it relies primarily on harvesting virgin, wild or purpose-grown material to be consumed. This leads directly to deforestation, water and soil pollution, soil nutrient depletion, droughts, species loss and a whole host of other harms.
In the view of researchers at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands, this has to change.
“The less biomass we harvest from the biosphere and the more circular and regenerative our biomass production systems, the lower the impact will be on biodiversity,” study author Abigail Muscat told me. “This is because we are lowering the need to exploit natural ecosystems and enhancing biodiversity in the managed or agricultural ecosystems like aquaculture, fisheries and forestry.” (Read more)