Nature Matters
Size Isn’t Everything

Size Isn’t Everything

We have plenty of open space in Canada but are we leaving enough for its smallest inhabitants?

As residents of the world’s second largest country, we tend to think big in Canada. Perhaps that is why, according to a 2017 survey released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, we have more space in our homes per person than residents of other member nations.

Similarly, another 2017 study, published by The Globe and Mail, showed that the average size of a Canadian house is almost 2,000 square feet. Only Americans and Australians build bigger. British houses, by contrast, have a footprint of around 700 square feet. Yet, on average, they have the same number of occupants as Canadian homes do.

But is there a downside to upsizing what we live in? It stands to reason that every square foot of space we add to foundations takes away more land, and every extra tree we fell for longer walls further depletes our forests. What is not so visible is the large impact we could be having on some of nature’s smallest organisms.

Butterflies are a prime example. Their delicate beauty is something we take for granted in our gardens every summer. Nonetheless, at least two species have gone extinct in BC in the last century and several others are now rare as a result of habitat loss. Indeed, the BC Government estimates that hundreds of the province’s insect species are currently at risk partly because we keep building subdivisions where they live.

Moreover, it is not just tiny animals that lose out when we use more space than we need to. Several mosses, some of which can only be seen through a magnifying glass, are threatened because they’ve lost habitat where BC communities have expanded onto floodplains and around lakes. Meanwhile, reindeer lichen is threatened in northern regions by climate change that is potentially hastened because we’re burning more fossil fuels to heat bigger rooms. That is bad news for Canada’s declining caribou herds as lichen is their main winter food.

Hundreds of other small species in BC and elsewhere could disappear virtually unnoticed, too, if we continue to live large. That doesn’t mean we have to squeeze into our homes. When it comes to nature, though, little plants and animals prop up the food chain and also contribute to our health and happiness in other ways. Even though we live in a huge country, therefore, we should remember that good things also come in small packages.

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