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Can rewilding prevent more environmental chaos?

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Sarah Bates examines whether rewilding can help stop the coming climate catastrophe
Issue 2667
A Eurasian Lynx
A Eurasian lynx , which some argue should be reintroduced to Britain (Pic: vil.sandi/Flickr)

A dramatically changing climate is threatening to destroy natural ecosystems, risks species extinction and the collapse of complex food webs.

For some, the concept of “rewilding” is key to a sustainable future.

They argue for changing landscapes to uncultivated states and introducing or re-introducing plant and animal species that should thrive in a biodiverse environment.

A global project of reforestation would help absorb carbon out of the atmosphere and help cool the Earth’s temperature.

A study published in July by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology looked at this question. It estimated that there’s potential for more than 500 billion trees planet over 0.9 billion hectares of continuous forest on Earth.

This would mean an increase of more than 25 percent in forested areas, which has the potential to cut carbon in the atmosphere by about 25 percent.

Trees also help protect against flooding and storm surges, by absorbing excess water from the soil and slowing the flood water’s strength as it reaches the coast.

And it’s not just in the rural areas—in urban environments, trees help reduce emissions and cool the temperature.

Trees are also critical in supporting biodiversity—the variety and quantity of different animal and plant species.

But it’s not simply a case of planting more trees—the practice of deforestation will also need to stop.

The rate of Amazon deforestation has been increasing since 2012 and under Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency has soared to the equivalent of one and a half football fields every minute. The exact cause of the deforestation increase is unknown, but there are concerns that Bolsonaro is allowing illegal farming and mining in the area.


It will take time to reap the carbon-absorbing benefits of rewilding—forests might need 70 to 100 years to reach full maturity. And a rapidly changing climate makes it harder for trees to reach maturity—higher temperatures and droughts will impact on growth.

It will also have a human impact. Agricultural workers who depend on farming or herding might not be too pleased to hear a new forest will be planted on their land.

The questions around re-introduction of animal species are even more complex.

Some campaigners are keen to improve biodiversity, eliminate “invasive species” and re-introduce once-native animals such as wolves and wild boar to British countryside. For instance, the Lynx UK trust is recommending the reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx, a wildcat that went extinct in Britain in the medieval period.

It argues more Eurasian lynxes in Scotland would help control the spiralling Roe deer population and bring in cash from tourists.

But local farmers are worried about risk to their livestock, the species long-term impact on the local area and the suitability of the landscape.

In truth, nobody really knows how the Eurasian lynx, or any another species, would fare if reintroduced today.

The charity Rewilding Britain claims the practise means “nature can take care of itself”. But rewilding is an extension of humans acting on their environment—not a departure from it.

While rewilding is physically possible, under capitalism it is not happening. As seen in Brazil, the opposite —deforestation—is taking place. And these ideas are nothing new—conservation trusts have been fighting to rewild pockets of Britain for decades. It could form a central plank of plans for a greener world, but it will not tackle the driving force behind global warming.

Capitalism, which is structured around using and burning fossil fuels, is to blame for the unfolding climate emergency. Rewilding could form part of a plan for the future, but will amount to nothing unless the system that endangers us all is overcome.

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