Welcome to the first Food for Thought episode of 2023 — the 17th year of this podcast! Let’s kick this new year off with recommendations of the best films and books enjoyed this past year. You can refer to the blog post for the list of movies. Grab some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy!
Depending on what you focus on, you can find reasons for despair or reasons for hope, and this episode is all about giving you reason for some optimism. Listen to the episode Good News for Animals: 10 Reasons for Hope, and for a full account of these 10 good-news stories, along with links and photos, visit the blog post called Good News for Animals and Nature (2022).
As another year comes to a close, I wanted to give you 10 reasons to be hopeful for animals and nature by focusing on some good news from 2022. Depending on what you focus on, you can find many reasons for despair or many reasons for hope, and I’m here to you some of the latter. (You can also listen to the Food for Thought podcast on the same topic.)
Make no mistake, however: optimism is not complacency.
Acknowledging victories provides an opportunity not only for well-deserved celebrations, but also for examining what tactics are working and what projects we may want to get involved in or support.
My hope is not complacent; it’s provisional. It’s the difference between wanting things to change and taking action to facilitate that change.
And so, here are 10 Reasons to be hopeful for animals and nature — just from 2022 alone!
1. Companion animals are no longer considered inanimate objects under Spanish law.
While it might be obvious to you and me that animals are sentient beings, this is not reflected in civil or criminal law in most places. While “livestock” animals are still considered property in many cities and countries throughout the world, more and more, dogs and cats are being given legal status that protects them in both criminal and civil cases. With the passage of this law in Spain, the welfare of dogs and cats must be considered in divorce proceedings, for example. They will no longer be able to be seized, abandoned, or separated from one of their human guardians in the case of a divorce or separation, without their wellbeing and welfare being taken into account.
2. In Wyoming, miles of fencing are being removed to help wildlife migrate.
Scientists conservatively estimate that more than 600,000 miles of fences crisscross the American West, hindering wild animals from moving around freely and safely. In some cases, the fences are simply left-over remnants that were erected decades ago and no longer serving any purpose. In others, they were constructed with little thought about their impact on other species.
Today, through an emerging field of research known as fence ecology, land managers and conservation groups in the United States are increasingly aware of how fences can harm wild animals. And they are beginning to push for fence removal or replacement as a solution that many otherwise-at-odds constituents can get behind. In Wyoming, the Absaroka Fence Initiative — a public-private partnership between willing landowners and land managers — sees volunteers, landowners, and federal agencies working together to help wildlife by removing miles and miles of fencing.
3. 400 years after they were hunted to extinction, beavers are now a protected species in England.
As of October 1st, 2022, it is illegal to deliberately capture, injure, kill or otherwise disturb the charismatic rodents, who have reclaimed a foothold in their native land in recent years. Beavers — known as “nature’s engineers” because of their industrious dam-building skills — create wetlands, which are an important habitat for many plants and animals. In doing so, they also prevent flooding and drought-related problems such as wildfires by keeping water in the land. While new incoming governments can always change this law, this is welcome news for now.
4. The largest wildlife crossing in the United States breaks ground.
In April 2022, construction began for a long-awaited a $90-million wildlife crossing above the US-101 Freeway in Agoura Hills in southern California. This is the result of a 20-year campaign to create an easier path of travel for mountain lions, foxes, and other wildlife to cross 10 lanes of Highway 101 without encountering a single car.
The efforts to save both animals and people have led to a proliferation of road crossings for animals along traditional migration routes and other crucial locations around the world. The practice originated in France in the 1950s and quickly spread to the Netherlands, which now is home of the world’s longest wildlife bridge at .5 miles (.8 km). According to the Federal Highway Administration, about 300,000 wildlife collisions happen on U.S. roadways each year, and those are just estimates. Many smaller animal deaths never get reported. This new bridge will save thousands of lives.
5. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef shows the best signs of coral recovery in 36 years.
Two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia recorded the highest amount of coral cover in nearly four decades. While the reef is still vulnerable to climate change and mass bleaching, these latest results demonstrate the Reef can still recover in periods free of intense disturbances. The Great Barrier Reef has suffered from widespread and severe bleaching because of rising ocean temperatures. “What we’re seeing,” said Dr Paul Hardisty of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, “is that the Great Barrier Reef is still a resilient system. It still maintains that ability to recover from disturbances.”
6. 200 nations agree to a landmark deal to promote biodiversity and save species from extinction.
The UN biodiversity conference, known as COP15, has been considered the last chance for nature’s recovery. One of the most significant parts of the pact is an agreement to protect 30 per cent of nature by 2030. This ‘30×30’ target is one of the biggest land and ocean conservation commitments in history. The deal includes a pledge to conservation in the developing world and protections for Indigenous peoples’ rights. Governments also agreed to take urgent action on preventing the extinction of species at threat from human activity and promote their recovery.
7. The largest U.S. climate legislation in history was signed into law.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) commits $370 billion to combat climate change. Aimed at slashing greenhouse gas emissions to around 40% by 2030 and curbing consumer energy costs at the same time, it is the largest federal response to climate change in history and will set the course for substantial changes in how the nation produces energy over the next decade.
Major provisions include major new or expanded funding to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, encouraging a domestic supply chain for electric vehicles and energy storage systems, promoting agricultural practices that capture carbon dioxide, expanding offshore production of energy (both fossil and wind), and providing federal support for energy efficiency. The IRA also includes dozens of new and extended tax credits for renewable energy, electric vehicles, electric transmission, and related industries.
8. In Europe, wolves, brown bears, and white-tailed eagles are making a dramatic recovery.
Some of the top predators are thriving in Europe, according to a major new report commissioned by Rewilding Europe, a charity working to restore wild spaces across the continent. Effective legal protection, habitat restoration, and wildlife reintroductions are all helping to drive species recovery. Among the top predators, the grey wolf is making the strongest recovery. Once hunted to near extinction, 17,000 wolves are now found right across Europe.
9. The urban bee population is no longer declining in The Netherlands thanks to a pollinator strategy.
The native wild bee population in the Netherlands has been declining since the 1940s, but recognizing the crucial role played by wild bees in the pollination of food crops, the government announced a national pollinator strategy in 2018. The strategy included 70 initiatives aimed at creating more nesting sites for bees and strengthening their food supply. Amsterdam has been working on various bee-friendly initiatives that include putting up “bee hotels,” which are a collection of hollow plant stems or thin bamboo that provide space for bees to nest. All of the efforts are working. The latest count of native bees since the project began showed no population decline.
10. A landmark bill will ban the shark fin trade in the United States.
Before the U.S. Senate passed this legislation, 14 states and three U.S. territories had already banned the sale and possession of shark fins. The new bill will prohibit the fin trade across the entire U.S. It’s estimated that fins from as many as 73 million sharks annually end up in the global market. This historic bill bans the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States, thereby removing our country from the global shark fin trade. Shark fins are mainly in demand for shark fin soup, a luxury dish popular in China, Hong Kong and many other places across Asia.
This forthcoming ban follows other measures to protect sharks, including the listing of many shark species on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and a ban on gear that is used to target sharks in the Pacific.
What did I miss? What are your reasons to be hopeful for animals and nature from 2022 or in general? Share your stories of hope with me in the comments below!
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