The field of conservation biology has set itself some imposing—but critical—goals: to describe Earth’s biological diversity, to protect what remains, and to restore what is damaged. To understand what a significant undertaking this is, consider the Living Planet Index (http://www.livingplanetindex.org) which shows that, already in 2014, Sub-Saharan Africa’s vertebrate populations were on average down 56% compared to 1970 levels (WWF, 2018). Declines were even more pronounced for freshwater vertebrates which showed a 75% decline. With wildlife declines showing no sign of halting, we are in a race against time to prevent catastrophic losses. Conservation biology is a truly crisis discipline (Soulé, 1985; Kareiva and Marvier, 2012), because decisions often need to be made under pressure, with limited resources, and constrained by tight deadlines. At the same time, the discipline needs to offer a long-term conservation vision that extends beyond the immediate crisis, despite unreliable commitments to seeing such plans through to completion.
Despite the challenges we face, there are many positive signs for cautious optimism. Some threatened species are recovering, the number of well-managed protected areas is increasing, and, in some cases, natural resources are being used more prudently on unprotected lands. We have also increased our capacity to restore degraded ecosystems to such a level that we are now reintroducing species that were once extinct in the wild. Our improved ability to protect biodiversity is in no small way attributable to the wide range of productive local, national, and international collaborative efforts that have been cultivated over the past few decades. It is also because the field of conservation biology has expanded for the better, by developing linkages with rural development, economics, the arts, social sciences, and government policy, to name a few.
Make no mistake, many challenges remain unaddressed and under-addressed, and new ones will surely also arise. These challenges all need to be faced head-on, because there is no “Planet B”: Earth is our one and only planet. There will be times when the biodiversity crisis will feel insurmountable. When that happens, it is important to remember that every individual human can play a role in saving our natural heritage. If just one-tenth of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people use one less plastic item (e.g. plastic bags, drinking straws, food wrappers) a week, there would be a reduction of 100,000,000 plastic items each week. People operating at the regional and global scales, such as company executives and government officials, also have an important task—ensuring that mechanisms are in place for all citizens to contribute to ensuring that future generations will inherit a healthier environment. Below, we offer a few holistic strategies towards a sustainable future.