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Research suggests that the scale of human population and the current pace of its growth contribute substantially to the loss of biological diversity. Although technological change and unequal consumption inextricably mingle with demographic impacts on the environment, the needs of all human beings—especially for food—imply that projected population growth will undermine protection of the natural world. Numerous solutions have been proposed to boost food production while protecting biodiversity, but alone these proposals are unlikely to staunch biodiversity loss. An important approach to sustaining biodiversity and human well-being is through actions that can slow and eventually reverse population growth: investing in universal access to reproductive health services and contraceptive technologies, advancing women’s education, and achieving gender equality.
Ecosystems are self-regulating systems that provide societies with food, water, timber, and other resources. As demands for resources increase, management decisions are replacing self-regulating properties. Counter to previous technical approaches that applied simple formulas to estimate sustainable yields of single species, current research recognizes the inherent complexity of ecosystems and the inability to foresee all consequences of interventions across different spatial, temporal, and administrative scales. Ecosystem management is thus more realistically seen as a "wicked problem" that has no clear-cut solution. Approaches for addressing such problems include multisector decision-making, institutions that enable management to span across administrative boundaries, adaptive management, markets that incorporate natural capital, and collaborative processes to engage diverse stakeholders and address inequalities. Ecosystem management must avoid two traps: falsely assuming a tame solution and inaction from overwhelming complexity. An incremental approach can help to avoid these traps.
Biodiversity is essential to human well-being, but people have been reducing biodiversity throughout human history. Loss of species and degradation of ecosystems are likely to further accelerate in the coming years. Our understanding of this crisis is now clear, and world leaders have pledged to avert it. Nonetheless, global goals to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss have mostly not been achieved. However, many examples of conservation success show that losses can be halted and even reversed. Building on these lessons to turn the tide of biodiversity loss will require bold and innovative action to transform historical relationships between human populations and nature.
The term "environmental problem" exposes a fundamental misconception: Disruptions of Earth’s ecosystems are at their root a human behavior problem. Psychology is a potent tool for understanding the external and internal drivers of human behavior that lead to unsustainable living. Psychologists already contribute to individual-level behavior-change campaigns in the service of sustainability, but attention is turning toward understanding and facilitating the role of individuals in collective and collaborative actions that will modify the environmentally damaging systems in which humans are embedded. Especially crucial in moving toward long-term human and environmental well-being are transformational individuals who step outside of the norm, embrace ecological principles, and inspire collective action. Particularly in developed countries, fostering legions of sustainability leaders rests upon a fundamental renewal of humans’ connection to the natural world.