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Caribou face a range of threats in Canada. Shutterstock

Nature matters to Canadians, so conservation should be an election issue

The natural environment is fundamental to Canada’s national identity — look no further than the polar bear and caribou on the change in your pocket. Canadians often point to nature as the best thing about Canada.

The science, however, is unequivocal: the natural environments that define our culture and that we rely on are under serious threat.

As Canadians head to the polls this October, it’s never been more important to speak up about — and vote for — biodiversity.

The climate-biodiversity link

New polling data shows that Canadians care deeply about environmental issues. Climate change now sits among the top three Canadian election issues and biodiversity — the variety of life on Earth — can be used as a tool to combat climate change.

Yet we’re also in the midst of a global biodiversity crisis, and losing species at an unprecedented rate. In response, Canada and other countries that signed the Convention on Biological Diversity committed to meeting 20 biodiversity conservation targets by next year (the Aichi Biodiversity Targets).

Spoiler alert: despite incremental changes in policy, trends in biodiversity are not improving. A more transformative change is needed.

Read more: Protecting not-so-wild places helps biodiversity

Our team of researchers is exploring what pieces of information are needed to guide transformative, evidence-based biodiversity conservation in Canada.

Biodiversity matters

Canadians are responsible for safeguarding a magnificent wealth of biodiversity.

Canada holds one-tenth of the world’s forests, many of which remain intact. These forests are the nursery for between one billion and three billion North American migratory birds, and they provide habitat for some of our most iconic animals, such as moose and wolves.

Canada also holds one-quarter of the world’s wetlands. These are often referred to as the “kidneys of the planet” because they filter water. To the joy of most canoeing enthusiasts, Canada has more freshwater lakes than all other nations combined.

Marshes, peatlands, bogs and swamps make up 14 per cent of Canada’s landmass and are an essential part of the water cycle. Shutterstock

Canadians benefit greatly from the country’s biodiversity. Enjoy a bowl of blueberries? You can thank the wide diversity of bees that pollinate generations of blueberry bushes.

Does heading to work through a local park start your day off right? On the weekend, do you pick up a pair of binoculars, a fishing rod or a bow to get up close and personal with wildlife? Being in nature makes people happier and restores our brain power — nature is a therapist.

Caring for the environment also boosts the economy and generates a significant number of jobs.

Given Canada’s vast habitats with important functions, small changes in our environmental policies can have a ripple effect for the entire world. On the other hand, this abundance of wilderness makes Canada seem limitless and inflates our sense of how well we’re doing at conservation.

Read more: Energy development wins when it's pitted against endangered species

In fact, half of all Canadian species are in decline and one-fifth are at risk of extinction. The boreal forest is undergoing one of the most dramatic land conversions of any type of forest due to natural resource development and climate-driven fires and pest outbreaks. Pollution poses a serious threat to watersheds across Canada.

Vote for biodiversity

Canadians can cast a vote for biodiversity to protect what they love. Most parties have promised to tackle climate change and protect the environment; however, it’s important to understand if these proposed policies can achieve these ambitious goals.

Several resources have emerged to help voters understand these details, including initiatives by young emerging Canadian scientists.

Climate policy isn’t the only way to protect the environment. Think also about a ban on single use plastics, increasing the amount of protected area, bolstering endangered species protection and the creation of green jobs.

Read more: Why Canada's single-use plastic ban could help the environment and wildlife

Another step is to be vocal before and throughout the election. If conserving biodiversity is important to you, tell the right people: write to political parties and talk to candidates in your riding.

Convincing decision-makers to actively support biodiversity conservation will require loud voices demanding change. Need help crafting your message? There are science-based initiatives to help you engage with your local candidates.

A loon swims with two chicks. Shutterstock

Finally, outside of elections, you can use your power as a consumer to vote for the environment with every dollar you spend. You can engage in direct actions to help restore degraded habitats or join civil disobedience movements.

Vote for a political candidate and party that supports nature. Tell decision-makers that you love nature and that they should protect it. Use actions to encourage sustainability.

But for the love of loons don’t sit back and do nothing. Business and politics as usual threaten nature and the very essence of what it means to be Canadian.

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