Tony Juniper on How Thriving Ecosystems Sustain Prosperity



Leading environment advocate and author Tony Juniper has been an Earth champion for three decades, imploring humanity to urgently understand that we need nature to thrive. His recently reissued book What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees, first published in 2013, won the Independent Publishers Living Now gold medal. It warns about the severe environmental cost of poor land planning; informs how birds, coral reefs, rain forests and other flora and fauna help preserve and sustain our quality of life; pushes for new recycling laws; and seeks to make children early enthusiasts.

Formerly executive editor of Friends of the Earth, he serves as president of the Wildlife Trust, in Great Britain, teaching faculty of the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, and is sustainability advisor to Prince Charles, a noted conservationist.

Why do you believe that economic growth and conservation can coexist?

We are measuring economic growth crudely with no sense of quality. One country can have 2 percent gross domestic product growth and at low environmental cost, whereas another measuring similar growth might be both causing massive environmental destruction and concentrating the generated wealth among small numbers of people.

We need to grow economies in ways that protect the environmental services that create opportunities for growth in the first place. It’s a major challenge for a world hell-bent on simplistic, crude measures of economic performance.

In the Ivory Coast, where I recently visited, many poor rural people grow cocoa. One way to expand its economy is to produce more cocoa at the expense of tropical rain forests, which ultimately destroys the economy because forests are a major source of rainfall. Extended droughts caused by deforestation reveal that kind of growth is self-defeating. We need a more sophisticated approach, with the economy becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of ecology, not the other way around.

Are true eco-cities and eco-suburbs feasible?

We can design much more livable areas for the protection and health of wildlife, nature and residents. Nature also has a major bearing on the costs of a country’s healthcare system. A number of population level studies, including from the Netherlands, reveal how people with access to green space feel better and experience higher levels of well-being, especially in mental and psychological health. Many Western countries are seeing increased incidences of depression, anxiety and other psychological problems that can be reduced through greater access to open areas, green spaces and wildlife.

We can expect massive increases in urban areas worldwide in the next 40 years. There’s an opportunity now to plan in integral ways to make these places better for everyone. Failing to integrate nature into them will ramp up the public health costs later on.

What can citizens do to strengthen U.S. environmental policies?

First, every election has candidates we can vote for that are more or less knowledgeable and clued into environmental issues.

Second, we can exercise power in our purchasing choices. Some companies take leadership positions on environmental and sustainability issues; others don’t. With some research, shoppers can find the best companies to patronize, like those that prioritize low-carbon emissions, resource efficiencies and environmental protection policies. Many of them are advocating for more sensible, long-term environmental policies.

In the U.S., one of the biggest pushbacks to the new administration will be from progressive companies that know the future has to be green; buying from these businesses strengthens their role and influence.

Third, we can add to the people’s collective voice by joining campaigns and backing Earth-conscious organizations like the National Audubon Society, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network and Sierra Club.

Why do you believe it’s important to instill basic ecological principles in youngsters?

In the future, if fewer people understand the implications of climate change, ecosystem degradation, loss of wild animals and rampant toxic pollution, it’ll be even harder to embed adequate responses. The next generation should know how this planet works. Our world doesn’t succeed just on the basis of technology. It’s being run on microorganisms, the actions of forests, seas, soils and everything in the natural world. People that don’t know this can do a lot of damage.

When more young people know the basics, it’s more likely they’ll behave in ways that reflect them. Progressive urbanization, with ever fewer people having direct experience of how nature works, is already an issue, so investing in our youth now will pay dividends in their future.


Randy Kambic is a freelance writer and editor in Estero, FL, and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings.


This article appears in the April 2017 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Gardening Asanas

Overdoing garden work can produce aches and pains, but by integrating yoga positions while planting and weeding, we can emerge pain-free after hours of being on our knees and bending.

Indigenous Wisdom

Indigenous elders from around the world meet together to pass down four sacred gifts of wisdom we would do well to heed.

Nature’s Remedies

Creatures in the wild ranging from microbes to elephants cope with parasites, pests and pain using natural substances; it all suggests why our preserving the natural world is good for us, too.

Healthy Climate, Healthy People

As the Earth slowly heats up, we’re being affected by rising allergens, disaster-related trauma and the increase in insects carrying dangerous diseases.

Whole Grains Help Us Eat Less

When overweight Danes exchanged refined grain products such as white bread and pasta for whole-grain equivalents, they tended to feel full sooner, eat less, lose weight and have less inflammation.

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »This Month

Zen Shiatsu Training

Business Spotlight
Shiatsu School of Vermont, one of two schools certified in the U.S. to offer Zen-style shiatsu certification, is offering a one-year Certified Practitioner Program starting this September.

Transformation Through the Art of Breema

An upcoming weekend retreat at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Movement from April 20 to 22 will provide a fulfilling entry into Breema’s philosophy, self-care exercises and bodywork.

Tour Green Homes at Green House Festival in Brookline

Mothers Out Front has organized a green home tour from noon to 3 p.m. on April 8, in Brookline.

Sleeping Better Naturally

Business Spotlight
At The Organic Mattress, a family-owned specialty sleep store, people will find mattresses made from natural and organic ingredients, including organic cotton, wool and natural latex made from the sap of rubber trees.

Rising Seas Threaten Boston

The Climate Action Business Association (CABA) is standing up to protect Commonwealth small business communities against imminent danger.

Peace on Earth

My latest favorite author is 20th-century new thought leader and philosopher Emmet Fox. His piece below feels like a perfect fit in light of the world’s celebration of our planet on Earth Day this month.