02 October 2014

It will be lonely without the animals

We are a rapacious species. Since we first walked out of Africa we have been decimating our neighbours. Today, according to the World Wildlife Fund's Living Planet Report 2014, we are annihilating other species on a grand scale. The report claims we have reduced the numbers of other animals in the world to half what they were 40 years ago. The numbers are based on measuring representative populations of more than 10,000 mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish around the globe.

And how do we do this? Where to begin. We do it by destroying their habitats.We clear too many forests for lumber and for farms. We exhaust too many rivers to irrigate crops, and we spray too many pesticides and fertilizers. We pave over too many meadows for streets and parking lots. We introduce too many alien species that overwhelm local species. We poach and hunt and fish excessively.

We just demand too much, much more than our fair share, and the Earth can no longer satisfy our demands. According to the report, it would take 1.5 Earths to satisfy our current appetite for the planet's resources. Unfortunately, we only have one at our disposal. Some of us are much more demanding than others. For example, if everyone on the globe lived at the same standard as Canadians, we would need more like four planets.

As other species' numbers decline ours steadily increase. Not only do we demand more and more, but there are more and more of us demanding it. Yet one thing never changes—human society depends entirely on the environment. If we don't come to terms with the other species on Earth, we have no future.


  1. The Global Footprint Network, a co-author of this report, some time ago concluded that mankind exceeded the Earth's resource carrying-capacity when we reached 4-billion. This report dovetails with that perfectly. Once we passed 4-billion, just about 40-years ago, the great wild life die off began.

    It's one thing for us to be using 1.5 times the resources the Earth can replenish but that has to be put into perspective. We're using all the renewable resources but every other life form also needs a share of those common, life-sustaining resources.

    To accommodate all the other species of plants and animals with which we share the Earth, mankind's share of the planet's renewables should be under 70%. Instead we're already double that and our consumption is growing.

    A lot of what we're doing can be seen by the naked eye from space - lakes and rivers dried out, deforestation and desertification - the exhaustion of once viable farmland giving rise to massive dust storms.

    As George Monbiot puts it, mankind is waging war against the living Earth. Do you hear anybody howling about that in Parliament? Other than Elizabeth May, no.

    Alarming as this should be, urgent as it unquestionably is, we'll have consigned it to the memory hole by next week.

  2. An alien in outer space gazing in our direction 6,000 years ago would have seen a beautiful blue-green orb. Then he would have seen a brown spot form. Gradually the spot would have spread further and further like a fungus. The fungus, of course, is dry-land agriculture.

  3. At this point, Bill, I suspect we're locked in. I just can't see our global civilization restructured in time to avert ruin.

    All advanced countries and the emerging economies are slavishly embracing perpetual, exponential growth. Even as our overall numbers swell our per capita consumption also grows. Several years ago James Lovelock suggested that mankind's survival hinged on our ability to pursue "sustainable retreat."

    We will defend free market capitalism, neoliberalism, to the death even as the resource collapse forces us from a growth-based into an allocation-based economics. We are already defying ecological gravity but the conjuring tricks we've employed to sustain this ruse are beginning to fail us.

    Even the Green Revolution has no answer to rapid soil exhaustion from over-farming and over-reliance on artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides or the depletion of groundwater. This is a candle burning brightly at both ends.

    I am dispirited by how we compartmentalize these predicaments - climate change, overpopulation, over-consumption - instead of recognizing them as symptoms of a common dysfunction. Our failure to tie them together keeps us from identifying the common cause which, in turn, greatly diminishes our chances of ever dealing effectively with any of them.