The Beginner's Guide to Protecting Biodiversity and Helping Endangered Animals in your Everyday Life

by - Friday, May 17, 2019

Today is Endangered Species Day. Started in 1973, this day bring awareness to species that need our help and protection. Never has this day been more poignant, as the UN released a devastating report this week saying a million species are at the brink of extinction because of human activity. There will be a mass extinction in our lifetime if things don't change.

The whole thing is really scary, and if you haven't been getting involved with the environment yet, this may be the thing to get you invested in this fight. If so, welcome! There's lots to do and we are glad to have your help.

Now, if you aren't already terrified by this news, let me invite you to join us. Because if these animals all go, so do humans. We hear this often about the bees, because they pollinate most of the food we eat, but it is true for so many creatures. We are part of the eco-system, continually dependent on the land just like any other species.

Even if, best case scenario, things aren't this catastrophic, we are seeing day after day that animals are going extinct. This is already happening all around us. Just this week, koala bears have been named "functionally extinct" which means there aren't enough breeding adults left to support another generation. In the Pacific Northwest, our once ubiquitous orca whales are practically gone; only 75 whales are left. Stories like these pop up every single day in the news, because our animal neighbors are in trouble all over the world.

This report, along with so much other bad news that is pouring in, is a shock to the system on how we have treated our planet. It is in crisis because of our poor stewardship. That's the bad news. The good news is that since we caused the problem, we can also fight for the solution. We can do this in big ways, like getting involved in elections, but we can also do things like change our diets and the chemicals we put in our yards.

This is a lot to process, so I am going to break it down into the actions you can take with the biggest impact. It may seem like a lot at first, but it's really about shifting your mindset from "what do I want?" to "what does the most good?" or "how does this help?" A few years in, I can also tell you, this makes life so much better. Most of the things we can do to help animals also helps us live better lives.

Don't let the hugeness of the problem keep you from getting started. You can help today. There are a million ways to do it; start with what you know you can sustain, pat yourself on the back for the ways you already minimize your impact, and for goodness sakes, help us vote out the people who protect corporations instead of the environment.

No one is going to do everything on this list, but everyone can do something.

Let's do this. You can help.

Step One. Only Elect Leaders who Support the Environment

We can see now, more than ever, that the difference between countries that are protecting their animals and the countries destroying them are the leadership. The environment and the animals in it are not apolitical issues, though both conservatives and liberals have histories of protecting the environment. 

In the US, our president is removing protections on endangered animals (no seriously, he is), selling off wild lands to oil drilling, and his EPA (run by a coal lobbyist) keeps removing the regulations that keep corporations from destroying natural habitats. What is going on in the American government is extremely destructive for the environment. Republicans used to be major conservationists (and they still can be!), but this administration certainly isn't. Elections just happened in Australia. Pay attention to leaders who are stepping up, and leaders who just aren't. 

 Elections are coming in the US. Don't vote for someone unless they are ready to help conserve animals and their habitats. This isn't just one political party, but if they support what is happening now, they cannot have power (or our biodiversity won't survive). 

Protecting the environment is about personal choices, but it is also about political action. Fight for leaders who protect animals. Write letters. Make phone calls. Tweet politicians. Send a clear message that you are paying attention and that you care. Become a leader yourself. Speaking up is one of the most important things we can do. 

Step Two. Join Groups that Protect Wild Lands and Wildlife

The forces against the environment are great. Even though it is really only a small fraction of people, those people have a shocking (and immoral) amount of political power and financial resources.
This means to fight back, we absolutely have to work together. We need to pool energy, resources, and skills. Anything you can do as an individual is important and valuable, but it won’t have near the punch as what can be accomplished with others. 

Volunteer. Give Money. Join their online pages and sign every petition. It all matters. 

If you can only give your time and energy to a few things, put your focus on what is most local and what has the fewest resources. 

Choose an environmental group that works where you are. This could be something that focuses on replanting native plants in your area, an Audobon society (they are very invested in protecting birds) or it could be the 350 chapter closest to you. You have more chance to make a real impact where you can actually get your hands dirty and help. 

Choose groups that focus on the world’s poorest areas can multiply your impact. These areas often also contain much of the wildlife left in the world, but may not have the resources they need to protect them. I would not recommend the World Wildlife Fund for this reason- right now, there is an investigation going on questioning their treatment of indigenous people in these vulnerable regions. 

Ok, need a few to start with? We have plenty to look through and think about. They address different places and animals, so you can choose what resonates, but they could all use your help.

Step Three. Switch Up the Food you Consume

Our consumer habits are a huge part of all the environmental problems this generation faces. It causes overwhelming plastic pollution (causing unthinkable damage and violence to fish and birds). Shipping from all over the world wastes huge amounts of fossil fuels, contributing to climate crisis. And it uses up our finite set of resources.

This is especially true of food. We are constantly encouraged to consume things blindly and constantly, not really thinking about how they are made or the waste they create. And it's making us all miserable. But we don't have to live this way. Here are a few of the most strategic ways to shift our food sources to help the environment. 

1. Stop Eating Fish and Beef

All meat contributes at varying levels to climate change, but if you are concerned about endangered animals, this is the way to start. 

Fish species are going extinct left and right because of overfishing, but the problem is even bigger than that. The fishing industry is the number one source of plastic waste in the oceans. Their supplies, especially fishing nets, litter the oceans. Sea life gets caught in these nets, and they die there. You can read all about this issue in this article

Beef is a shockingly huge contributor to both climate change and the extinction of other animals.  Cows are not only a major source of greenhouse gases (the livestock sector creates as much waste as all cars, trucks, and buses combined), but they use up tons of land and resources AND create tremendous waste. The dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico you keep hearing about? Those are also the product of livestock farms, especially beef and dairy farms. 

Do you have to be vegan to save the environment? That would be amazing, but if you can't sustain it, you are better making a smaller change to get you started. You can add more vegetarian meals to your diet, cut down on portion sizes, and cut beef and fish down to the barest minimums. We have tons of meatless monday meal ideas if you need some inspiration. 

2. Say NO to Palm Oils

Palm oils have seen an explosion of use since the early 2000's. It's an edible vegetable oil, and it goes into things all over your house from your peanut butter to margarine (I love you, friend. Don't eat margarine. It's not food; bugs won't even touch it). Sadly, palm oil has a particularly potent environmental effect, because it is grown in rainforests, so they cause massive deforestation and loss of bio-diversity where we need it most. 

It has been a big deal for many years (often talked about because of the harm it causes to orangutans), but many people haven't heard about it or realized just how much they are buying it.

In a perfect world, palm oils would have to be clearly marked, so you could easily choose to buy options that didn't use it. But that isn't the case, so you have to be on the lookout. Check out this super helpful list of names for pal oil on Tree Hugger, and just check the products in your pantry (and shower) already. When it feels overwhelming, look at some cute pictures of orangutans to inspire you, and make a list of the items you need to switch. 

3. Focus on Plastic-Free Foods

Plastic waste is a major threat to sea life (and human life- it causes hormonal problems, endocrine issues, and even cancer), so the less food you can buy wrapped in plastic, the better! Shop the outside edge of the grocery store, because that's where most of the plastic-free items live. Bring your own containers for fruits, veggies, and deli meats. Say no to Coca Cola and Nestle- they are two of the hugest plastic producers in the world. 

Cut out the plastic water bottles. They are a scam; you are just paying for tap water wrapped in garbage. Embrace the reusable bottle and save some money. 

4. Buy Local and Seasonal Foods

Ok, that is a lot to NOT do, so how about what to do? Buy more local foods. Check what is ripe and local near you, and start there. It is more expensive, and not everyone can afford to shop like that, but check out the resources near you- you might find some affordable surprises. The other great option here is to start growing things yourself. Even if you don't have a yard, you can grow herbs in pots in your house. 

You don't have to be perfect to make a difference here. Start with a few small changes and see how you feel. The best part of this is that every step you can make for animals is also better for your own body. 


Step Four- Make your Home a Home for Bugs

Our insects, especially bees and butterflies, have been deeply effected by modern living. Many are now endangered, which eaves the survival of humanity in potential crisis. For most of this decade, different types of bees end up off and on the endangered list. Some of this is due to parasites, but we also had a part to play, and we can do a lot to help. 

1. Plant Native Pollinators

By planting in your yard, especially plants and flowers native to your area, you create potentially habitats for bees. They need that pollen. Even if all you have is a patio, you can put a few potted plants out. 

2. No More Round Up in Your Yard (or Your Stores)

Chemical pesticides and herbicides like Round Up (from Monsanto) is fatal to insects, animals, and humans. Case after case has proven that Round Up caused cancer for the people who used it (it's just the beginning; they think it is responsible for many cases of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma). It has also proven to be very dangerous for kids and their brain development.

Don't use chemical pesticides! Ever! Even if you are using a different one, it is only a matter of time before you get bad news that yours is also toxic and dangerous. So stop using them. 

Embrace weeds (they are great for insects) or pull them out yourself. For unwanted bugs, we have found that diluted Peppermint Oil works just as well for keeping spiders out of our house (they hate the smell). You will be happier and healthier for it, and you will stop sending poison out to kill the animals near you.

3. Stop Mowing your Lawn (and Make a Home for Bees)

The flat grass lawn is so common in the US that if you put them all together, they would cover all of Florida. That's a lot of water and irrigation just being wasted on grass. Also, the desire to keep these areas pristine is what sells so much of those chemical herbicides. More and more environmentalists are questioning whether the flat grassy lawn is desirable, natural, or even safe? Restore Habitats in your neighborhood by simply rethinking what is in your yard. If you have more spaces with plants, instead of flat green lawn, that is a better habitat for bees AND a better use of resources. 

Plant more trees, plant more food, and give up on that pointless grass patch. 

Step Five. Stop Plastic, Stop Pollution

Plastic in all of its forms is one of the greatest threats to all animal and human life. And we use it CONSTANTLY. We have relied too long on recycling, but 90% of plastic waste is never recycled. By simply noticing the plastic in your life and using less, you can have a major positive impact on animal life near you. Check out this post- there is so much plastic in our lives that we can easily switch out (and never miss it... I promise you). 

1. Say No to all Single Use Plastic

Plastic bottles. Bags. Food Packaging. Coffee Cups (yes! They are lined with plastic and then filled with super hot liquid... what do you think is leeching into that coffee?). Balloons. we use each of these things for a few minutes top, but they will continue on as plastic trash for 400 years. Every piece of plastic ever made still exists in the world. Your first shampoo bottle exists in the world as trash. The bottle of pop you drank on a high school field trip still exists in the world somewhere. 

In short, there is no "away"- plastic trash persists... and often hurts animals the most. 

 As governments struggle to figure out what to do with all that trash, it ends up in "uninhabited" areas- areas that should belong to wildlife and sea life! So much of it can be confused with animals, especially in the water, and whales keep washing ashore with tons of plastic in their stomachs. This is not ok.

So it's time to stop adding to that trash mountain. Look at your life, and honestly ask where you are still contributing to this problem. A little less plastic is good for everyone. 

2. Just Buy Less (and Buy Secondhand)

Have you ever bough something off amazon and it came in a little plastic bag? How about clothes you have bough online? The truth is, most retailers and manufacturers ship their items all over the world in these bags, because the plastic bag is cheaper than the cost of a damaged item. They are shipped to stores in the exact same way, so even if you buy the t-shirt in the store, it still traveled in a pointless plastic bag. Everything you have bought new this year probably created at least one more piece of plastic trash.

So how do you avoid this? Stop shopping so much! Americans are now infamous over shoppers, and our consumption and clutter is making us miserable. Stop using shopping as a passtime or hobby. When you "need" something, write it on a list, and then you can go to the store with that list once a month. It will be amazing just how many things you actually can do without. Gift experiences instead of things.

Another trick I have found works really well in our family is to get almost everything used. We joined our local Buy Nothing Group to share with our neighbors, and we have saved thousands of dollars. You can find most clothing, furniture, and houseware items you would need secondhand either at local shops, on online consignment stores like ThredUp, or on Ebay. It saves you tons of money, and you don't have to get things wrapped in more deadly plastic. 

3. Stop Buying Synthetic Fabrics

Plastic based synthetic fabrics (polyester, elastene, basically anything in your fleece or leggings) sheds thousands of microscopic plastic pieces into the water every time you wash them. Billions of these pieces (about the size of glitter) get sent into our water sources every day, and there is no real way to clean them up. This means everything that ingests water (so basically everything) is also ingesting plastic. 

We know that plastic is poison, and that every living thing from oysters to whales to humans are eating it every single day. This is a big freaking deal, and we don't even know what the long term effects will be. We need to stop the flow of microplastics into the water, which means buying no more clothing made with synthetic materials and calling out companies that are still selling them (I asked Gap to stop here).

Want more info on how to find clothes without plastic? Check out this post that has all the information you need to know.  

Step Six. A Few More Random Pointers...

I know, this is a lot of information, but we are almost done. Again, pick a few things to work on and build from there. This problem is big and complicated; so are the solutions.  Just getting in the fight and starting to participate is a huge part of the battle. 

1. Use Less Energy

Yep, this can even be important to help the endangered species. The less we use fossil fuels, the more we can mitigate the climate crisis, which effects animals more than humans.

 So this is where the simple stuff comes in- switch your light bulbs, turn things off when you aren't using them, and drive less. Ride the bus more. Leave the air conditioning off and open your windows. There are a million little things to add to this, but the trick is to just keep slowing down your personal energy use. 

2. Keep your Cats Indoors

Such a simple one, but domesticated animals (especially cats) can be a major threat to the wild life near you. Indoor pets are less of a threat to the animals outdoors. 

The Beginner's Guide to Protecting Biodiversity - How to Help Endangered Animals in your Everyday Life

Thank you for reading this, and thank you for caring. I am so grateful that more and more people are out there, ready to make a change and help. All your choices matter, and your help makes a difference. 

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  1. Hey Barbara!

    This is Olivia. I think I may have another organization you could add to the list of organizations helping wildlife. They are called the Lion Guardians.



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