Photograph of a red fox walking on a dirt path. In the background are tree roots and low vegetation.
Figure 1. Fox prowling a road in Chernobyl.[2]

Thirty years after the Chernobyl reactor incident, radioactivity levels have dropped to a miniscule fraction of what they used to be. The area once saturated with human dwellings have now been reclaimed by resilient nature: numerous ungulate, wolf, and bird species, 60 of which are considered rare, now roam the charred streets and overgrown buildings.[1]

In the foreground, the Limjin River. In the background, cranes drinking from this river surrounded by yellow grasses.
Figure 2. Bird species unique to Korean peninsula, rarely found in cities, represented at the Limjin River in the DMZ.[4]

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the Koreas is also devoid of human presence, and this is the exact reason for the treasure trove of biodiversity that exists there, vastly outshining the richness of species in the surrounding regions. Endangered species in particular find refuge in the DMZ: the goral, the Asian black bear, various cranes, Siberian musk deer, and more.[3] 

With all else held constant, it seems that the erasure of human presence and infrastructure is a significant factor in curbing, and in fact reversing, the decline of biodiversity in a region. Left on its own, nature rebounds and prevails. 

Clearly, however, stunting development of human habitats for the pursuit of arbitrarily defined “biodiversity goals” is not a satisfactory solution. Surely, there is a way to reconcile the realization of human potential with a consideration for the wellbeing of nature around us.

While recruiting the public to value biodiversity more will be essential to creating legislative and economic agents of change, convincing the public that biodiversity and greater environmental issues matter at all is actually not a problem. Nine in ten Americans believe that biodiversity is important to both the well-being of humans and the earth, with over half believing it is very important.[5] 

The issue lies where biodiversity ranks in people’s priorities. Understandably, Americans who rank the economy as a “top policy issue” outnumber those who cite the environment by nearly 33%.[6] Furthermore, only 20% of Americans say that their daily choices are directed towards helping the environment “all the time”.[7] 

If we candidly assess the public’s view on biodiversity, we can conclude that many people support it nominally. Fewer people are willing to act accordingly because they fear a disruption to the other things they value—culture, material well being, convenience, and more. 

These concerns directly speak to what the World Economic Forum has identified as the three factors holding global conservation efforts back: economic, political, and communication-related failures.[8] 

People need not perceive a tension between the lifestyles they want to maintain and the wildlife that needs protecting. However, it can be difficult to imagine effective conservation without envisioning a visibly dramatic change in society. The truth is, the unfavorable conditions that led to the DMZ and Chernobyl are far from the only methods of freeing nature from human tampering so that the environment is permitted its inherent nurturing complexity.   

The aim of Terrascope Class of 2024 in selecting a focus on cities for addressing biodiversity decline is to demonstrate that biodiversity can be preserved without inhibiting human ambition. 

Nowhere outside of cities is the divide so clear between what humans want (in the short term) and what wildlife requires. Cities symbolize extreme, unfettered propagation of spaces hospitable to humans and to little else. 

But while cities seem to inevitably snuff out the buzzing and chirping that signal biodiversity, they provide a comforting reserve of order, opportunity, and prosperity in their buildings for business, government, entertainment, and research. The high concentration of paved surfaces enable humans to enjoy the wonders of technology as they zip from place to place in cars, buses, and trains. The skyscrapers of glass, steel, and concrete attest to the human capacity for design. Therefore, cities symbolize technological advancement, cultural activity, and human welfare. 

In the foreground, a black lamppost. In the background, towering skyscrapers.
Figure 3. Downtown skyscrapers.[9]

Considering the attachment our society has to all that cities represent, we cannot hope to secure a better future for our species if, in our efforts to stave off the dangers of waning biodiversity, we drastically squander the human creativity that uplifts quality of life. We do not have to see human settlement as necessarily antagonistic to wildlife, as Chernobyl and the Korean DMZ seem to suggest. We can harness the same creativity that we use for constructing cities to introduce into them more sustainable elements for promoting biodiversity.  

Terrascope Class of 2024’s solutions consist of guidelines for introducing more plant and pollinator species into the heart of cities, maximizing the utility of sometimes overlooked land for the purpose of infusing cities with greenery in a way that supports human health as well. If the accompanying benefits of a greater array of plants and animals can be observed daily by the hundreds of millions of Americans who live in cities, and if these citizens play a role in such projects, persistent persuasion to the cause of biodiversity can quite naturally occur.

Several people are relaxing on a sunny day on green grass with the NY skyline in the background.
Figure 4. Sunbathers lounging in Central Park, New York.[10]

Ultimately, change by policy or by the free market is a numbers game. Illustrating for urban dwellers the potential of biodiversity solutions will be important to winning it. Thirty years from now, 89% of the United States population and 68% of the world’s population will live in cities.[11] What these people think will hold great power, and how they vote with their money will impact many diverse regions of the biosphere outside city limits.   

By targeting the ultimate symbol of human development, Terrascope Class of 2024 hopes to spark more than a mere symbolic change in how governments and citizens receive proposals for living in harmony with other species. With this accomplished, the path to further bolstering biodiversity solutions in the agricultural sector, in the oceans, and beyond can be taken with more conviction.


[1] United Nations Environment Programme. (2020, September 16). How Chernobyl Has Become an Unexpected Haven for Wildlife. UN Environment.

[2] Van Der Loo, J. (2018). Pripyat Red Fox Just Outside of Cafe. [Photograph]. Retrieved from 

[3] Harbage, C. (2019, April 20). In Korean DMZ, Wildlife Thrives. Some Conservationists Worry Peace Could Disrupt It. NPR

[4] Max Pixel. (n.d.). Dmz Limjinriver Mangjae Rapids Korea. [Photograph]. Retrieved from

[5] The Harris Poll. (2014, December 16). Nine In Ten Americans Believe Biodiversity Is Important To Human Beings. PR News Wire.

[6] Anderson, M. (2017, April 20). For Earth Day, here’s how Americans view environmental issues. Pew Research Center.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Howes, M. (2017, April 7). What’s holding back environmental sustainability? World Economic Forum.

[9] V. (n.d.). [Downtown skyscrapers] [Photograph]. Retrieved from 

[10] Saalo (ZeroOne), V. (2008, August 31). Central Park. [Photograph]. Retrieved from 

[12] University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems. (2020, September). U.S. cities factsheet.