How can we rebuild a healthier world where all living things, including humans, can thrive?
The Green Planet reveals the plant world like we’ve never seen before, giving us a fresh understanding of how plants behave and interact with the world around them.
It also reveals how much we stand to lose, and have already lost in the midst of the sixth mass extinction as a result of human activity. With 40% of the world’s plant species facing extinction with widespread destruction of fragile ecosystems – we’ve made a lot of grave mistakes.
But as The Green Planet closes with its final episode, ‘Human Worlds’, it leaves us with a message of hope and a powerful ‘Call To Action’.
“Make the world greener and wilder” says Sir David, a battle cry we cannot afford to ignore.
From seed balls, reforestation efforts, seed banks and an urgent call to eat more plants (!), we have the potential to change the world around us for good.
So, what next?
I believe we have to ‘Think Global, Act Local’. Sir David didn’t leave us to marvel at the inspiring efforts of others, but for us to take action too.
So let’s talk about how you can be a part of change and the local community efforts you can get involved in:
Plant More Native Plants
Not all green is good, if it’s in the wrong places.
Some of our most popular houseplants are popular because of how easy they are to grow and propagate.
But this very trait can also cause problems.
A lot of our houseplants are non-native, and some of these naturalised plants are potentially invasive if they escape into the wild.
I’ve had plants like the Inchplant and Mother of Thousands which are prevalent in peoples’ gardens because of how fast they propagate. They can take over a garden very quickly if left unchecked and if they escape into the wild, they can suppress native, slower-growing plants. Certain types of aquatic plants can also be very invasive and we must take extra care for them to not escape into waterways.
So try planting more native plants instead. They’re adapted to living in balance to our local ecosystems and will provide food and shelter for local fauna and attract wildlife back into our concrete jungles.
Participate and volunteer with urban reforestation and conservation organisations in your area to learn more about native species. Help propagate and share saplings, seeds and cutting of these native species amongst your community so others can grow them too!
Let The Wild Grow
How about doing ‘less’ instead? Less mowing, less weeding, and stopping the use of pesticide, herbicides and insecticides.
Despite their green appearance, well-manicured lawns are not the best for the environment. Grass kept short are less able to provide habitat to pollinators, insects and other small animals, they are akin to a monoculture of their own, a single plant dominating an area.
Letting your grass grow out longer will allow more shade for local wildlife. During the first lockdown due to the pandemic in Singapore, grass cutting was halted and the usually regularly pruned grass were allowed to grow free. Citizens noticed an increase in butterflies, dragon flies, grasshoppers and bees when wildflowers, native tree and shrub saplings started to grow. This led to local nature lovers and conservation groups calling for a reduction in grass cutting.
You can also allow a diversity of wild plants to grow in your outdoor space (i.e. plants we consider ‘weeds’) which will help promote biodiversity overall. If it’s not your whole garden, just letting a portion grow wild would provide a haven for insects and birds.
Leave Wild Plants Alone
Plants are not trophies, especially rare and endangered species. As gardening becomes more popular, especially over the pandemic, rare species of plants with high price tags have become coveted items. These desired plants are susceptible to poaching from the wild which can negatively disrupt ecosystems and even drive them into extinction, especially species that are slow-growing.
“… If people could check with their suppliers of plants where the plant came from, that’s really all you need to do. Many plants can be grown from seed or from tissue culture… It’s only the wild, harvested plants we don’t want to buy. If you can check where the plant you’re interested in has come from, and don’t buy those plants that have quite clearly been collected from the wild, then you’re doing a great service to the plant world”.
I asked Rupert Barrington, the Series Producer of The Green Planet for advice, and he thinks it’s simple.
So if rare plants are on your wish list, get them from trusted suppliers and nurseries instead. Remember to ask about their sources. Avoid buying them from random sellers online who may be stripping forests of these prized plants for a quick profit.
Eat Healthier Food from Healthier Systems
The culture of monoculture has meant our food sources have increasingly grown in fragile, artificial systems propped up by chemicals and human intervention. Conventional farming practices spark a negative feedback loop. It needs Increasing amounts of chemicals to grow our food and fight off pests and diseases, without natural checks and balances in place and as soil continuously degrades.
As The Green Planet often emphasizes, plants don’t exist alone. They form relationships with other living things. So the best thing we can do is grow more of our food as nature intended (or as close as possible).
If you have a garden or a small patch of land, try growing your own food without the use of chemicals. Instead use sustainable practices that mimic natural systems like planting cover crops, companion planting and composting, which will also help nourish and rebuild soil to grow healthier food.
However, most of us won’t be able to grow enough to eat solely from our own gardens. So what we can do is support local farms that use alternative farming systems that are more sustainable, like permaculture farming, biodynamic farming, organic farming and regenerative agriculture. Shift your weekly grocery budget, if you can, to fresh produce from local kebuns and urban permaculture farms that have emerged in the last few years, and that will help reduce some of the demand for monocultures.
And last but not least, reduce your meat intake. The animal agriculture industry is directly linked to deforestation, biodiversity loss and water pollution and contributes 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions. Agriculture takes up about half the usable land on Earth, and roughly 80% of that agricultural land is used for raising livestock. So as Sir David puts it, “The more plants we eat, the more space there will be for wild plants”.
Support Local Conservation Efforts
The Green Planet is a masterpiece that not only stirs a deeper connection to our green world, it shows us what we stand to lose everyday if we don’t take action. The past months with The Green Planet has been an eye-opening journey but it would be a waste for us to just end here.
While I was searching for a deeper connection to the plant world, I found local environmentalists, plant lovers, community organisations and citizen scientists playing a critical role in the conservation of our natural world in my country.
And they were people just like you and me.
Many of them didn’t have a Bachelors or Masters in botany, biology or environmental science. In fact, not all of them are good gardeners. They just appreciated plants and all that they do for us. And they wanted a better, greener world.
Sounds like you and I, doesn’t it ?
Change is happening on your doorstep too.
Contribute to local organisations that focus on conservation of endangered plant species, reforestation, urban rewilding and biodiversity initiatives, seed banks, and community gardens amongst many others. You can volunteer, learn, donate and share their work with others. Some of my favourite organisations doing impactful work in Malaysia are Free Tree Society, Urban Biodiversity Initiative and Tropical Rainforest Conservation & Research Center.
And finally, share The Green Planet with your family and friends. It’s a great conversation starter on how you can make changes in your own lives to play a part.
A world where the natural system is in balance is healthier for all living things, including us. And, one of the best places to start is by helping plants do what they do best – sustain and enrich life on Earth.
Catch all episodes of The Green Planet anytime on BBC Player
This article is brought to you in collaboration with BBC Studios.