Could the key to saving the Earth simply be to leave it alone?

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When we have a negative impact on an ecosystem, we tend to believe that the best thing to do is to intervene to remedy the situation. However, a new study suggests that the best thing to do could be…. to do nothing, and let Nature take its course. 

The Anthropocene is characterised as an era in the history of the Earth during which humans had a significant impact on the earth’s ecosystem. Since then, because we humans have been aware of our impact, we have been trying to repair certain types of damage, for example by restoring ecosystems, or by reintroducing endangered species to their natural habitats. A recent study suggests however that even if numerous ecosystems can be re-established via human intervention, only very few of them will be restored to their primitive state.

So, what should we do? In a report published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the authors suggest that the best way of protecting biodiversity is to let Nature heal its own wounds, as it has always done. For them, it would be better to concentrate on maintaining existing ecosystems. To support their proposal, the researchers examined over 400 studies relating to environmental recovery, observing the responses of ecosystems to disruptions such as oil spills, agriculture or logging.

“passive recovery should be considered as a first option”. In their meta-analysis, the researchers noticed that simply stopping the disruption affecting the natural environment -for example stopping deforestation -had very similar effects to restorative activity orchestrated by man. They however recognised that their conclusions should be interpreted with caution. In fact, only a small number of studies compare the effects of so-called active and passive recovery strategies in the same place and having undergone the same negative environmental impacts.

This is not the first time that a passive approach has been presented as our best bet for repairing ecological damage. Biologist E.O. Wilson, also known as the “father of biodiversity” has been advocating for a highly ambitious strategy: transforming half of our planet into a natural reserve.