We are most honored and excited to be hosting Douglas Tallamy, Professor of Entomology at The University of Delaware, in a Zoom Meeting Tuesday November 10th, 7:30 AM – 9:00 as he presents his New York Times Best Selling Nature’s Best Hope (Workman Press, 2020) to a select audience of policy makers who are committed to habitat restoration, whether local to Long Island, to New York, domestically or globally. We all face the same problem everywhere — ecological collapse. For Tallamy, “nature’s best hope” is staving off this disaster one suburban yard at a time.
If you are interested in seeing this presentation live and in meeting Prof. Tallamy and others invested in healing the natural world locally — and ourselves in the bargain! — REGISTER HERE. Please think of this as the beginning of a conversation that aims at instituting habitat restoration locally AND at scale globally, a new Civilian Conservation Corps for the US and for the world. We need everybody everywhere engaged for us to prevail given the size of the challenge. If you can’t make the meeting, it will be recorded for future viewing as we build the argument for habitat restoration en masse as the surest way towards a sustainable planet.
Tallamy’s landmark work can well serve as the suburban owner’s playbook for how they can participate in local habitat restoration and thereby do their part to help stave off the local extinction of our animals and plants. If we are to coexist with Nature, it needs to be in our very yards first off. Native plantings bring back native insects, and with that the local food web may be reestablished. As it is, habitats for our local creatures are too fragmented for them to avoid going extinct in coming years. By establishing a spirit of local stewardship — in short by taking out the non-native that doesn’t belong there, and planting what would be there if we weren’t.
I owe both Prof Tallamy and my colleague Frank Piccininni an enormous debt of gratitude for curing me of “plant blindness.” My yard was about 85% non-native — English Ivy, Norway Maple, privet hedge, yew, Japanese wisteria, multiflora rose, and honeysuckle courtesy of the neighbors, and weeds from all over the world, courtesy of our local gardening centers, who sell predominantly non-native. This all left little for the native insects to eat — in my yard, and in everyone’s yards, with the result that locally and globally animal populations are collapsing.
Since we never used pesticides and fertilizers, our yard has significantly more wildlife than the neighbors, but I remembered how in the summer the air was alive with insects and birds calling. The Silent Spring that Rachel Carson wrote of in 1962 has now become Silent Fall. We are running out of time. We’ve lost 1% of our songbirds since 1964 and 45% of our insects since 1974. It is sad losing our birds; If we lose our insects though, human beings have three months, according to another eminent entomologist E.O. Wilson, who Tallamy cites.
Spurred on by Tallamy and by the sheer joy of reconnecting with Nature, we are transforming my less than half acre into native habitat, seeking to plant in effect what would be growing in each part of the yard if we had never put a house there. With the Butterfly Milkweed and the Seaside Goldenrod and the New York Ironweed there arrived insects I’d never even seen before, and a host of various pollinators that I am still learning to name. I’ve also documented 30 invasive plants so far on my typical suburban half acre. Each morning now, confined as I am by this pandemic, my yard is my retreat, a place I go to experience wonder, to experience in real time Nature healing itself through my hands.
This enchantment is exactly what Prof. Tallamy describes — a joy in local stewardship, in creating beauty through restoring Nature, in learning to appreciate Nature’s complexity and elegance. Tallamy calls for the creation of a Home Grown National Park, an amalgam of all the millions of acres we would revert to habitat in yards across the country, as we seek to create enough connected habitat to assure the future of countless species, as well as homo sapiens.
We can trot out the cold hard environmental facts for people, but that too often leads to paralysis and denial. The macro situation is indeed grave, and reckoning with that is terrifying. But give people the means by which to be good stewards of the little piece of the Earth that they do have control over, and you meet people right where they live (literally). The issues are gargantuan. That’s why we need everyone involved. Any attempt at climate restoration has to have a local populist bent to it, or the efforts will fall far short. No one cares more for a river, a bay, or a lake, or a forest, than those who live near it. It is this local passion that needs to be engaged.
Now, with issues such as climate justice and food security rising to the fore, it is even more imperative that we empower local communities with the means to heal their local environments. By giving communities the means to invest in their natural infrastructure, through habitat restorations that return wildlife, clean water, air, and soil, we are helping these communities restore their “common wealth.” Investments in natural infrastructure — in our forests and rivers and fields — are the only infrastructure investments that appreciate over time.
We are facing four crises simultaneously: The pandemic, massive unemployment, an unraveling of civil society, and the collapse of ecosystems everywhere. Through our work with Save The Great South Bay, Frank and I learned just how much localism matters, how the common purpose of restoring the bay knows no politics. So many remember what once was here, and yearn for its return. Let’s put everyone to work planting, neighbor with neighbor, and revitalize our communities. Let’s fish and swim in our bays again.
SMPIL Consulting is a Prosocial venture. We ascribe to the view that restoring nature and restoring community go hand in hand, that having all stakeholders at the table in search of common ground may find it in rebuilding “The Commons.” We need to heal our land and our relationship to Nature and to each other. This was the approach taken by my good friend Jason Atkinson, in his impactful documentary on The Klamath River in Oregon, entitled “A River Between Us.” “In Order To Save A River, First You Must Heal A People.” No real progress could be made to resolve water issues on the river until the warring parties along it began to see each other as human, by breaking bread together, and finding common ground in the river they shared even as they disputed over it. And so it was that this film, with its strong storyline and characters, conveyed a message that led to the largest restoration project in US history via an agreement that brought Indian tribes, ranchers, farmers, environmentalists, and the U.S. Departments of Energy and the Interior after 15 years of conflict.
So much of the resistance we face as scientists and environmentalists has to do with the fact that we don’t realize often enough that facts are not enough. Hearts must be moved. How does one reach the broader public? Why do people often not see what we do? It gets down to storytelling, to framing the issue in a way that people can relate to. Over the past couple of months, across several conferences, that was the continuing frustration: How do we get beyond just talking amongst ourselves? How do we break through?
The answer is that we draft a common narrative, we go local and lean into its own form of tribalism, and bring people to embrace the beauty they can create right at home.
Beauty is tough to argue against.
The investments we must make to repair our local environments will need to be massive and persistent. We’ve damaged a lot of the Earth. On the other hand, though, rebalancing ourselves with Nature represents the largest economic opportunity in human history. We need to do this. The science is clear. If we don’t, our children will never forgive us. It will be, however, the inspiration we will feel in the doing that will see us through.