'Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years'


#1

Still not sure how to process news of this kind:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf

The number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, according to a new analysis. Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological Society of London found. [...] The steep decline of animal, fish and bird numbers was calculated by analysing 10,000 different populations, covering 3,000 species in total. This data was then, for the first time, used to create a representative “Living Planet Index” (LPI), reflecting the state of all 45,000 known vertebrates.

The fastest decline among the animal populations were found in freshwater ecosystems, where numbers have plummeted by 75% since 1970. […] The number of animals living on the land has fallen by 40% […] Marine animal populations have also fallen by 40% overall

The trouble, I think, is that the stats come from somewhere alienated to my everyday experience. Over the short time that I’ve been alive (and the even shorter time I’ve been paying close attention) the conditions for wildlife around me have apparently stayed much the same - even improved somewhat. 200 species going extinct every day across the globe, I hear, but in the UK it seems to be ‘only’ one extinction every year on average, mainly among the invertebrates (since most of the larger vertebrates were exterminated centuries ago) - sad, but I’m not sure how I would even notice, barring knock-on effects.

This appears to be another case, like climate change, poverty, disease, famine, etc. where my material circumstances, where I was born and where I continue to live has sheltered me from the worst aspects of the global ecological catastrophe:

The biggest declines in animal numbers have been seen in low-income, developing nations, while conservation efforts in rich nations have seen small improvements overall. But the big declines in wildlife in rich nations had already occurred long before the new report’s baseline year of 1970 – the last wolf in the UK was shot in 1680.

Also, by importing food and other goods produced via habitat destruction in developing nations, rich nations are “outsourcing” wildlife decline to those countries, said Norris. For example, a third of all the products of deforestation such as timber, beef and soya were exported to the EU between 1990 and 2008.

I hear (via Monbiot again) that huge areas of Europe that were formerly under cultivation have been reverting to a wild state and will continue to do so, leading to incredible opportunities for large, landscape-scale rewilding. Is this because the agricultural industries have finally decided to let up and allow the non-domesticated living community to have its space? No, of course not: as with other industrial manufacturers they’re simply taking their operations elsewhere, where they can make bigger profits. Simon Fairlie challenged the new-born rewilding movement in Britain with a similar point in a recent edition of The Land Magazine:

The more we rewild in Britain, the more food we will need to import and the more we are likely to dewild land in countries that provide us with substitute food. Conserving our natural environment at the expense of other people’s is a neo-colonialist agenda. There is an environmental price to pay for having so foolishly allowed England to become one of the most overpopulated countries in the world, but that price should not be paid by people and environments in other countries. (‘[url=http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/articles/rewilding-and-food-security]Rewilding and Food Security[/url]')

I feel like I’m living in a bubble. On one level I don’t want the bubble to burst, don’t want to lose my illusions, but on another I realise that no real progress will be made until that happens and we (in the affluent West) finally have to deal with all the shit we’ve been pumping out into the rest of the world for all this time.


#2

Meant to mention this article, which makes a few important points:

http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2576309/to_save_the_worlds_wildlife_first_we_must_love_it.html

…especially this one about the true tragedy not being the final extinction of individual species, but the environmental degradation and simplification over the decades, centuries, millennia leading up to that final death:

Extinction is the end of long period of attrition

What most interests me about this report is that it is looking at the numbers of animals themselves. Too often the attention is focussed on the demise of a species. But the moment of extinction is really rather trivial compared to the decades before.

Thom van Dooren described this well in his book, Flight Ways. The loss of the last of a species is nothing compared to the loss of the mass of individuals before that one, which is nothing compared to the loss of functionality within the ecosystem and which is topped off by the evolutionary loss - the millions of years and individuals that have gone in to creating that one, last creature.

All of this is being wiped out by our violence. Van Dooren describes it as a “violence that is often rendered invisible … by its slowness.”

How can we stop that violence? The first thing is to become aware that it is going on - and this report is a valuable step in that direction. But we need to look deeper than a simple awareness as that will tend to give us a false sense of security.


#3

This is a very interesting topic, and I think about it a lot. The exportation of exploitation is something that most people don’t realize. It’s not just with the environment either. Americans are so proud of “getting rid of slavery” when in reality they simply exported it out of the country. Without slaves in the third world countries, our way of life would not be possible. Of course, it all depends on how you define “forced labor”.

Another thought (and I tried to find the articles about it) is the idea that each new generation normalizes the level of destruction they are born into. The Buffalo and Salmon runs were dead long before I was born, so I don’t think about them as “biodiversity loss” on an internal level. I get what happened, but it isn’t visceral they way, say, my favorite forests around Portland have been converted to suburbs. Anyone with links to that article?

The bigger question I have though, is that if 50% of the worlds wildlife was destroyed in 40 years by a population of 3-7 billion people, how can we use that to predict a timeline for the total destruction of wildlife? A lot less time than 40 years I would imagine, since it was probably exponential. I’m aware that all of this is happening, but its weird living in this era where I still get up and go to work and nothing seems to have changed day-to-day living in inner Portland. Even though I see the cancerous growth of suburbs when I go to the woods, and the telltale sign of clear-cutting forests… There is still food in the grocery store, gas in the pumps, and water in my tap.

At what point will the charade come to a grinding halt?


#4
The exportation of exploitation is something that most people don't realize.

Yup. ‘The battle outside raging / Will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls’ sang Dylan in the 60s, but it hasn’t quite happened yet. Another example that strikes me is fracking and other ‘unconventional’ oil extraction. On the one hand it’s horrifying to see it being rolled out in this country, with politicians framing the laws so that nobody has the right to refuse the fracking companies if they decide to go ahead and drill next to your house. They’re going to wreck this Green And Pleasant Land if there isn’t a strong counter-mobilisation. But then how come it’s so pleasant here when Britons consume more gas and oil products than practically any other people on Earth (with honourable exceptions :slight_smile: ) This country used to be a grimy shithole - not pretty but at least it was honest. Now that stuff has gone out to sea or off to Nigeria and the middle east. In a very weird way I’m almost happy the fossil fuel industry is coming back here: chickens coming home to roost and all that. It will certainly wake a lot of people up. Trouble is they will be going for the poor, deprived areas first. Already there’s a disparity between the protests in the wealthy South-East (lots of media exposure, some successes) and those up North (heavy-handed policing, minimal media coverage). ie: the bubble is not going to burst everywhere at the same time, and the powers-that-be will play us off eachother and attempt divide-and-rule colonisation tactics to the last…

each new generation normalizes the level of destruction they are born into

‘Shifting baseline syndrome’? Monbiot talks about it a lot, though I’m sure I’ve heard others say similar things. Crazy to consider the importance of freshwater fish (including ocean-going migrants) providing a large proportion of the protein in British diets up until very recently. As a serious forager I never even considered looking to the rivers for food.

if 50% of the worlds wildlife was destroyed in 40 years by a population of 3-7 billion people, how can we use that to predict a timeline for the total destruction of wildlife?

Interesting question. Sickening to even think about it really… My first thought was that it might actually take longer because, a bit like the peak oil situation, civilised humans have gone for the most easily-accessible & meatiest fish, mammals, birds, and the ones left behind might not be worth the effort. But then it’s not just direct hunting that’s causing the losses, but habitat destruction and the conversion of diverse ecosystems to monocrop farms. Most of the loss of diversity is happening in the tropics at the moment, especially in the rainforests. That’s where the 200-extinctions-a-day are mainly coming from as far as I know. But does that represent a wholesale loss or are we talking about a process of simplification as has happened in temperate Europe, Asia and America - ie: loss of many large keystone species and mass deforestation, but a continuation of species adapted to open grassland-type environments? Agriculture seems way more destructive in the tropics, more rapidly leading to soil erosion and desertification etc… I keep returning to the fact that it’s total numbers, biomass that we’re talking about, not just diversity. All those wild bodies literally being converted into the flesh of domesticated humans and their small band of plant & animal allies, many more simply going up in smoke, lost to the massive entropy of civilised subsistence… But when will it come to a halt? How can we bring it to a halt? More unanswered questions…

Sorry to hear about the suburbs taking your forests. I had another think, and I remembered at least one invertebrate species that has massively declined in my lifetime: the honeybees. They’ve been decimated in recent years. But I’ve noticed lots more bumblebees around, perhaps compensating? Frustrating how you can never really know for certain with these things.

I’ll stop there before I get even more depressed!

cheers,
I


#5

This is exactly what first alerted me to the idiocy of Jared Diamond. In an NPR bit he claimed that Japan was becoming a very sustainable culture because they’ve virtually halted logging. In their own country. No mention of the fact that Japan gets an exorbitant amount of wood from Indonesia. ::slight_smile:


#6

This article made me think of our discussion of rewilding Europe.

Why U.S. Forests are Fueling Europe

http://climate.audubon.org/article/why-us-forests-are-fueling-europe


#7

Thanks, didn’t know about this (although have read about how some of the power stations are shifting to biomass in a big way over here). I notice the environmentalists quoted in the article still haven’t come up with a better reason for preserving these habitats than their value to us (ie: industrial civ) as a ‘carbon sink’. This is just pathetic:

If nothing else, the new inquiry provides an emerging forum for examining ways to make working forests more bird-friendly. “We’re forging partnerships with landowners, loggers, scientists, and even hunting clubs that lease large swaths of bottomlands,” says Curtis Smalling, director of land bird conservation for Audubon North Carolina. “We understand that healthy timber markets can have an upside for conservation, and there are lots of ways to work together.”

Fucking quislings…

cheers,
I