Science says: The most resilient places on Earth right now, are the ones under indigenous stewardship


I listened to this podcast last week – an interview between Natalie Nahai (a wonderful interviewer whose voice I have an ear-crush on) and Dr Sam Gandy, a doctor of ecological science and collaborator with the Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial College London.

Dr Gandy shared that earlier last year, the intergovernmental science policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services released the most comprehensive assessment of its kind ever undertaken. It was conducted by about 145 world experts from 50 different countries, with inputs from another 310 authors, and it took three years to complete and to look back at 50 years worth of data and 15,000 scientific and government sources.

“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

“The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably — this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

Said Dr Gandy, “The news from it was not good. The rates of ecological degradation and biodiversity loss are unprecedented anytime in human history and they are accelerating. And the basic conclusion of this assessment was that without a sort of global ecological mobilization, kind of on the scale of World War II we’re in deep, deep trouble as a species, as a civilization.”

One of the really interesting and few positive findings of that report, said Dr Gandy was the areas of land inhabited and ‘managed’ by indigenous people were the only areas and habitat impacted by humans that are not undergoing ecological degradation. A different study from 2019 found the areas inhabited by indigenous people can sometimes harbor greater biodiversity than equivalent protected areas.

Interviewer Natalia Nahai exclaimed that this gives us a new interpretation on humanity’s role in the destruction of nature… “We have this narrative that humans are bad and that we have failed in our stewardship of nature and yet there is the potential for great partnership and for regenerative relationship between humans and our environments, especially when looking at the ways in which indigenous groups are able to do a lot of the stuff that we now so badly need to do at scale.”

A few years ago, I interviewed a group of people who had spent time learning “primitive skills”, trying to strip away all the clutter of modern life, and return to something more in-tune and simple. They’d embrace the technology of stones and sticks and craft things from scratch, reweaving themselves back into a very primary and direct relationship with the wild world. One engineer, Matt Forkin, came to this understanding from his experiments:

“Our role as people is to be the caretakers of the Earth, not just to take care of our own needs but to interact with the land to make things better.”


Finishes Dr Gandy: “Beavers are very powerful ecosystem engineers. They were part of the British landscape till about 400 years ago. They have this huge effect on their surrounding environment that goes far beyond them as individuals that benefits and affects many other different like species. And humans have that effect too. We’re a very powerful species, a very intelligent resourceful species and we can absolutely play a fundamental and very important role in actively regenerating, restoring degraded landscapes and ecosystems.”

It occurs to me that we should stop burdening First Nations in BC with land management stuff-ups, and occupying their capacity with cleaning up messes they didn’t create. If the province has mismanaged recreation sites and hot springs, passing the buck (but no actual bucks) to a First Nation is really unfair. Wouldn’t it be better to sit down and say: how can we help you revitalize and energize your cultural knowledge and perspective? How can we support your journey to wholeness? How can we learn from your approach? How can we all work together to regenerate and steward this life-giving Earth, upon  which we all depend.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s