If an insect dies on a farm and nobody sees it, did it make a difference? Yes, here's why.

Takeaways from our Biodiversity, Climate and You Celebration

Local climate leaders and community members recently gathered to celebrate Boulder’s role in protecting the living world. The event started with a presentation from city staff about recent global biodiversity agreements and ended with hands in soil. Here are key takeaways from the event.

First off, what’s biodiversity?

Biodiversity is the variety of life on our planet. Different types of animals, plants, bacteria and fungi live together in communities, called ecosystems. We (human beings) are also part of ecosystems.

Late summer is a time for spectacular wildflower displays on Marshall Mesa.
Dave Sutherland

Our planet is a complex and fine-tuned system made up of many overlapping ecosystems.

All life is connected, so when species disappear, our whole planetary system is affected.

Biodiversity loss is one of the most important issues we face today.

Species are disappearing at a startling rate, and their extinction has an enormous impact on the future of our planet. The loss of just one species can affect the wellbeing of others in the ecosystem. Eventually, this can cause an ecosystem to fall apart.

Ecosystems provide life support to the entire planet. They grow nutritious food, clean air and drinking water, control pests, create healthy soils and regulate our climate. When ecosystems collapse, these life-sustaining services are lost with them.

There are five key drivers of the biodiversity crisis:

  • Land use: when humans transform land and sea into buildings, roads, factory farms and fisheries, we push species out of their homes and closer to extinction. Our global food system is the leading driver of biodiversity loss – agriculture threatens 86% of the species at risk of extinction. Rethinking how we grow, process and transport our food is a critical part of protecting nature.

  • Climate Change: rising global temperatures impact living systems across the globe. Sensitive ecosystems, like Colorado’s alpine forests, are most vulnerable to hotter temperatures.

  • Invasive species: plants and animals that are introduced to areas where they aren’t naturally found may outcompete native species for food, space and other resources. This can harm native species and change habitats.

  • Pollution: pesticides, plastics and other pollutants turn up in our soils, air and waterways. These substances have caused the collapse of insect, marine and plant populations. They also poison our bodies. People experience direct and indirect health issues from human-made chemicals, including cancer and learning disabilities.

  • Exploitation of natural resources: Forests have been clear-cut, rivers are drying up and overworked soils are struggling to support life. Finding sustainable ways to use natural resources is critical to preserving life on our planet.

Local governments can change systems at the root of biodiversity loss.

The most recent United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) recognized the importance of empowering local governments and indigenous people to protect nature. Healing nature happens at the local level, and cities are starting to work together to restore ecosystems across the globe.

“We have a hard road ahead of us,” said City Senior Ecologist and conference attendee Rella Abernathy. “But we can do this if we all commit to each other.”

Abernathy shared her experience at COP15 with the crowd. “One thing that gave me so much hope was no matter who I talked to...we connected and saw value in working with each other. We have a lot in common and can learn from each other.”

Homegrown efforts – from creating circular, local food systems to supporting insects – are changing the tide.

Four panelists discuss innovative climate action projects happening in Boulder.

Hear from local leaders who spoke at the event.

Food Made with Sustainable Ingredients

Local bakery and grain mill, Dry Storage, connects people to regenerative agriculture through food. Their flour is made from grain they grow and process themselves. They also partner with other companies to repurpose leftover materials, like bran.

“We’ve created a loop where we sell our bran [to Zach Hedstrom at Boulder Mushroom] and he grows mushrooms [with it],” said Mara King, the director of fermentation at EI Hospitality and general manager of Dry Storage. “He sells those mushrooms back to us and those mushrooms were on your pizza tonight.”

Another loop Mara described was growing mold on leftover bread to make a savory condiment called gochujang. “I've created more flavors and ingredients out of something that normally would have been thrown away.”

Regenerative Agriculture

Mark Guttridge, owner of Ollin Farms, helps get nutritious, sustainably grown food into Colorado communities. He has turned his farm into a thriving ecosystem that can withstand drought and severe weather. Guttridge recalls looking out over his fields after repeated hailstorms and having a realization.

“I’ll never forget looking over these fields that we poured so much love into for ten years and seeing a wasteland,” said Guttridge. “And then next to us is this creek and this ecosystem that’s still thriving. The light just went off. This system needs to be managed more like a creek...”

Harnessing the Power of Fungi

Mushroom grower Zach Hedstrom has been developing ways to ally with fungi to heal soils, clean up pollution and reduce wildfire risk. Mushroom roots, called mycelium, are being used to break down piles of brush collected during wildfire management. “How can we take what these organisms have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years and...do this matchmaking between the ecological niche of a given organism and our human problem.”

Supporting Our Pollinators

Amy Yarger, director of horticulture at the Butterfly Pavilion, shared the role pollinators play and ways folks can support them. “One of the most exciting things that people can do...is to add habitat. Depending on where you live, that might mean a container garden. In other places, that might mean full scale habitat restoration. But what we’re looking for is increasing native plant diversity that supports these insects.”

Reconnecting with the living world is a form of climate action and a source of hope.

We must fundamentally shift our relationship with the living world if we want to successfully address the climate and biodiversity crises. This starts with reconnecting with nature.

The more we pay attention to the living world around us, the more curious, compassionate and appreciative we become. We must welcome life into our yards and support the living systems that support us.

“The world is feeding us – it's still nurturing us,” said Abernathy. “We need to be focusing on that and reconnecting with nature because there is so much joy in this work. And that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

Want to take part in climate action? Make a sow-bag!

Event attendees start native seeds in sow-bags

Sow-bags are an easy and inexpensive way to start native grass and wildflower seeds during winter. Come spring, seeds will be ready to plant in green spaces and become home to a variety of native insects. Learn how to make a sow-bag on Cool Boulder’s website.

Miss the celebration? Catch the full replay: