Canada's greatest contribution to sustaining our planet's biodiversity and ecological services may very well be our abundance. From some of the world's largest intact forests and wetlands, to wild northern rivers, to spectacles of bird and mammal migrations, Canada is one of only a handful of countries with true wilderness and wild spaces remaining.
For the most part, our brains didn't evolve in cities. But in a few decades, almost 70 per cent of the world's people will live in urban environments. Despite the prosperity we associate with cities, urbanization presents a major health challenge. Cities, with their accelerated pace of life, can be stressful. The results are seen in the brains and behaviour of those raised in cities or currently living in one.
There has been a lot of attention and coverage in recent days about close relations between Canada and the United States and meetings between our respective political leaders to discuss issues of mutual interest. Among these many common issues, one area where there has been friendship and considerable goodwill for more than 30 years is the shared pursuit of conservation.
Simplifying is vital not only for our kid's health, but also for our own. Simplicity is a rare gift in modern life. It's an obvious message, and when we hear it, we can't help but shout YES. Slowing down feeds our souls and nurtures our families. No matter what parenting style we practice, this topic unites us.
To this day, the grassy landscapes of Ireland remain free of any snake species. And despite the popular tale of Saint Patrick banishing them all, they always have. According to scientists, there has never been any fossil evidence of snakes found on the island; proving no snake has ever slithered on Irish soil. It is believed snakes were unable to reach these lands due to the Ice Age, which kept Irish territory too cold for snakes to survive.
Looking to bring some inspiration and creativity to your next meeting? Perhaps it's time to take a hike. Research points to both the mind-clearing and brain-boosting benefits of spending time outdoors. Encounters with nature are proven to help alleviate mental fatigue by relaxing and restoring the mind.
After years of steady, but slow, steps in nature conservation, our collective stride seems to have lengthened in 2015. We still need to act on commitments to create more terrestrial and marine protected areas. We still have Canadian species that are at risk of disappearing. We still have parks and protected areas that need to be buffered and better connected.
Those who fear and reject change have always been and always will be with us. They've argued ending slavery would destroy the economy; they've claimed putting people on the moon would be impossible; they've rejected ending South Africa's apartheid system; they've said the Berlin wall wouldn't come down. We can and must speak louder than those who would keep us on a destructive path despite the overwhelming evidence that it's past time to shift course.
Humanity is seen to be independent from nature, even above it. This has been the Western vision of the world. In poisoning the earth, we were led on a self-destructive path. But I try to invoke here an alternative vision, expressed by Islamic (Sufi) arts, which finds that the way humanity relates and depends on nature can be renewed once the creative life is reclaimed.
Canada has a rare opportunity, indeed an obligation, to be a world leader in the conservation of natural habitat and by doing so to contribute directly to the fight against climate change. Conservation of our natural ecosystems is integral to any effective Canadian strategy to slow climate change and to mitigate its effects. Significant scientific evidence shows that the destruction and clearing of forests, grasslands and wetlands, in addition to the burning of fossil fuels, has resulted in a substantial increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the Earth's atmosphere.
Until 1969, biologists thought mushrooms and other fungi were plants. They're actually more closely related to animals, but with enough differences that they inhabit their own distinct classification. This and more recent findings about these mysterious organisms illustrate how much we have yet to learn about the complexities of the natural world.
Canadians steward not just about nine per cent of all the world's forests, but a whopping 25 per cent of the planet's most intact and pristine forests. Despite everything forests provide to Canada, our collective stewardship of this quintessential Canadian landscape may be falling behind. Canada is one of only a few developed countries continuing to lose forest.
It's often said that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. But what about the grandparents of the natural world? Old-growth forests come to mind. They are structurally and ecologically diverse and often remain very stable for centuries, feature multi-layered canopies with various tree species at different stages of their life cycle.
A growing body of research confirms the health benefits of getting outside. Kids who spend time in nature every day are healthier, happier, more creative, less stressed and more alert than those who don't. As parents, grandparents, caregivers and educators, it's our responsibility to raise kids with healthy nature habits.
Canada is a treasure trove of rivers, lakes and wetlands supporting countless communities, economies and species. With freshwater species experiencing the greatest rate of decline in what is being referred to as the sixth great extinction, Canada must step up efforts to improve watershed health for people and animals. For a prime example of our freshwater health and wealth, we need to look no further than the Skeena watershed on the northwest coast of British Columbia.
If we disconnect from the natural world, we become disconnected from who we are -- to the detriment of our health and the health of the ecosystems on which our well-being and survival depend. Understanding that we're part of nature and acting on that understanding makes us healthier and happier, and encourages us to care for the natural systems around us.