Event Review // ‘Is there space for nature in a world of 10bn?’ // by Harriet Hales

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A particularly thought provoking event from the Festival of 10bn in February 2016 was a panel debate which asked: ‘Is there space for nature in a world of 10bn?’

The title of this debate is intriguing in itself, as the subject matter is one you may not immediately associate with the theme of 10bn, which on the surface appears anthropocentric. However, when considering population growth, it is vital that we also consider the impact we are having upon our environment, and the animals with whom we share our planet. Since it is an extremely provocative question,this debate evoked a wide range of responses, and sparked numerous points of contention – as any engaging debate should!

The panelists came from a range of disciplinary backgrounds: Matthew Hethcoat is a Conservation Scientist, Dr Anna Krzywoszynska is a Social Science researcher, Debbie Coldwell is undertaking a PHD in Cultural and Educational ecosystem services, Nicky Rivers is a Living Landscape Development Manager at Sheffield Wildlife Trust and Neil Williams is studying a PHD in the department of Philosophy. This illustrates that to explore a topic such as 10bn effectively, input from a range of perspectives is required.

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Opening the debate, the panelists were asked why it is important to make space for nature as we move into a world of 10 billion. A rather harrowing point made was the fact that without nature, the world of 10 billion would cease to exist. Examples were given of the various ways humans depend upon nature, ranging from how nature provides us with food and medicine, to how nature regulates climate and disease, not to mention the benefits it can have for our general well-being.

As panellist Dr Anna Krzywoszynska asserted, ‘our lives are very interconnected with the non-human elements of our survival.’

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One of the primary focuses of the debate revolved around the issue of monetary value, and whether or not we should keep economics out of nature. The multiplicity of responses to this key question was insightful, leaving plenty of food for thought.

Debbie Coldwell argued that not putting a value on nature runs the risk that nature may be forgotten about. On the other hand, Neil Williams voiced his concern that focusing on the economic value of nature would enforce the idea that everything can be exchanged for something else, thus jeopardizing creatures that do not provide a service to us.

I found both of these arguments compelling. But ultimately I do not believe that segregating economics from nature is feasible. Money is such a powerful influence in contemporary society. To entirely distance issues of nature from economics would require a radical change to the way society functions.

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One of the closing issues debated by the panel was how to get people to care about nature. I thought that this question was highly significant, because in order to live harmoniously with nature it is necessary to respect it.

Encouraging members of the community to experience the beauty and health benefits of nature from a young age was the main response to this question. It is education, the experience of natural surroundings and discovering the benefits of nature that will lead individuals to care about it and fostering a desire to contribute to conservation efforts.

Overall, the debate was intellectually stimulating and it inspired me to consider more deeply the impact humans are having upon the natural world and what the long term dangers of exploiting nature are.

In direct response to the question posed by the title of this debate, I would argue that we must make space for nature if we are to sustain a population of 10 billion. The manner in which we do this is a highly complex question, and possible ways of tackling this problem were explored in other Festival of 10bn events, such as the talk on sustainable energy and the Real Junk Food Project.

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