Today is World Habitat Day which I admit I thought was about wild habitats until I looked it up. The United Nations actually intended World Habitat Day to bring attention to the inequality and challenges faced by humans in cities and other settlements. I was going to write something about squirrels instead but especially considering discussions around the rebuilding of southwestern Florida after Hurricane Ian, there might be something for me to comment on.
The U.N. notes three crises – COVID-19, climate change, and human conflicts – as examples of the need for more resilience and inclusivity to be built into the human social contract. Each also has implications for the urban ecosystems and the whole web of life.
Ignoring the species that were susceptible to catching COVID, wildlife did okay during the pandemic lockdowns. Fewer cars on the road improved the odds of crossing unscathed. The birds and squirrels gladly accepted food offerings in exchange for entertaining bored humans. I wonder how many humans became aware of the diversity around them while staring out their windows.
The evidence makes it likely that COVID-19 was passed to humans from a bat. Given the likelihood that another zoonotic disease could spark the next pandemic, how might we expand the circle of inclusivity to non-human beings? How can we share space in a way that is safe for both humans and non-humans? Since Wild Bird Fund is admitting dozens of injured patients a day thanks to our unwillingness to make New York City’s windows bird-safe, we must have a way to go. Fixing the windows would be a start.
Climate change is already making some areas unsuitable habitat, for both humans and animals. As sea levels rise and heat and drought make places unlivable, the life that occupied those places must go somewhere. Human refugees struggle to cross artificial borders. Non-humans meet other perils – new predators, colder winters, unfamiliar food – but also have the same unwelcoming humans to deal with. “Not in my neighborhood” applies equally to people of color trying to make a new life and lowly opossums just trying to find a snack.
Meanwhile, the giant storms fueled by warm oceans that destroy human settlements are also wrecking the homes of non-humans. My heart hurts for all of the wildlife and ferals who died as a result of Ian’s winds and flooding. Yet the talk is of rebuilding with the same density of human presence when restoring habitat for other species would also provide buffers against future storms.
Human conflicts include things like wars, which are not good for anyone. Bombs, no matter how “tactical,” do not spare the animals they hit. The only cure for them is both sides choosing peace.