I’m a fan of BBC’s marvelous nature series Planet Earth and Blue Planet. Narrated in David Attenborough’s crisp British accent (nevermind the bombastic music) and featuring stunning shots of things I’m unlikely to see in person, Planet Earth is a tribute to the diversity and splendour of the planet we live on.
Which we are doing our best to throttle.
The last disc in the series is devoted to the future, and a grim prospect that is. 1/3 of all amphibian species are likely to collapse within the next few decades. There are only about 30 amur leopards left, and poachers are doing their damned best to drive them extinct so that the disgustingly wealthy can have leopard skin coats. The walia ibex, Ethiopia’s symbolic animal, has been driven by poaching and human encroachment to around 600.
It makes me want to poach the poachers. I’m blindingly angry that supposedly intelligent humans can be so shortsighted, selfish, and greedy that we are pushing our own ecosystems to the brink of destruction. I choose amur leopards over more humans.
While we live worlds away from ibexes and leopards, our actions have a huge impact on the rest of the world. Take the hapless amphibians, for example. Species are dropping like flies due to a combination of pesticides, habitat loss, climate change, and disease (that, not surprisingly, was at least partially a product of human meddling). You might not think that a few frogs make much difference in your daily life, and you might be right. But enough frogs, and you’re looking at the collapse of an entire ecosystem. Enough ecosystems collapse, and humans are in big trouble. Deny it as we may, we are still deeply interdependent on plants, insects, and animals. All the science in the world can’t effectively convert sunlight into plants that provide the basis for all life. All the science in the world can’t replace pollinators, without which we would lose most of our food crops.
So what can you do now? Unfortunately, a lot of what we can do is the equivalent to sewing on patches. We’ve messed up badly. We’ve messed up so badly we may be facing the largest mass extinction in 65 million years. And yes, it’s a direct result of our actions and misuse of resources. But we can at least stop adding to the damage we’ve already done. Here are some ideas on where to get started in your own life.
- Conserve resources. Keep your showers short, consolidate your errands (or walk some of them!), replace your broken appliances with Energy Star ones, use cloth bags, convert your home into a solar or wind power hybrid.
- Be a smarter shopper. Buy what you need, buy used, choose locally made products over imported ones, look for minimally packaged and processed goods, and realize that everything you buy has an environmental impact. Unless it’s fully edible or biodegradable, it will be your duty to dispose of it as responsibly as possible at the end of its lifetime.
- Have fewer kids. I’m serious about this one: the major reason for habitat encroachment is the expanding human population. Humans are not in remote danger of going extinct, so please: 1 if you must. 2 and you are actively sustaining the continued overpopulation of the planet; any more than 2 and you are actively contributing to the continued overpopulation of the planet. More children = more space and resources. Scientists estimate that a good human population would be between 500 million and maybe 3 billion, tops. Currently we have 6 billion and are looking at 9 billion by the middle of this century. Governments in all countries need to divert funds to make sex ed and contraceptives available to all its citizens. The fewer people we have, the less we encroach on animal habitats. (I am a member of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.)
- Eat less meat. Raising domesticated animals is energy intensive and requires land to grow both the grain and the animals, in the process forcing native animals away from their habitats. Grow crops, and you convert sunlight directly into food for humans.
- Realize that your actions have a direct impact on the future of the earth. Right now, it looks very, very scary.
Today, everything in my lunchbag is reused, recyclable, or edible. I’m getting better at this.