Humans are a Plague – Attenborough

That most extraordinary man Sir David Attenborough has proved himself even more worthy of accolade. Mind you, he and many others have been saying this for years – the statistics are in.

This morning he is reported in the Daily Telegraph with a grabbing headline:

Humans are plaque on earth – Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough

What a wonderful man. The rest of us are so pleased that he has community standing, is considered a National Treasure and therefore worth quoting.

The number of times it has been said that we are eating our way out of house and home and helping to extinguish the hard fought lives of other species on this planet seems not to take much root in people’s (and that, inevitably, means governments) minds.

I remember a much gentler man decades ago who was so enraptured with our planet and the life abounding on it, that his enthusiasm galvanised his audiences all around the world.

His transparent delight in making the documentaries that he did for all of us warmed and informed everyone. He is also a patron of Optimum Population Trust (now known as Population Matters).

I am also a subscriber to Population Matters, an organisation that has been in existence for a long time now and those of us who are members are well aware that humans have reached a point where our thirst for knowledge and wonderfully inventive and intelligent curiosity has given us the sort of technology that can help keep us alive at both ends of life thus increasing the pressures on the planet.

The past 200 years has changed the world drastically. Hans Rosling is an enthusiastic statistician who has made the presentation of data much more accessible to us than before. Here is Gapminder – a fact-based world view of how much change those 200 years have wrought.

Instead of the sort of infant mortality rate we suffered as late as the late 19th century, which is hard to estimate because of the lack of organised public health data but about 25 – 33% depending on locale, we have been able to save more and more of our babies and their mothers so that infant mortality has dropped to between less than 3% in Scandinavian countries to about 12% or more again depending on locale.

At the other end of life, we have increased our average life span from about 40 years in the 19th century to around 67 years in the beginning of this 21st century. Of course, in western post industrial countries the tendency to be able to hang on to life until 83 years or so is easier.

The article in The Tele has (at this point) some 1,200 comments (rapidly growing!) and I am horrified at the vitriol, racist, elitist and downright nasty comments posted. One of the problems we have to overcome is seeing ourselves nationally, patriotically and class oriented. Until we are able to see the globe as a whole living place then the sort of revolting nastiness espoused in the comments will keep contributing to our species’ and all others’ demise.

Disheartening to say the least. I know it is only one paper and one set of comments, but … it is attitudinal. It is like climate change denying.

The globe can no longer afford these attitudes and our educational curricula just aren’t keeping pace with what is needed to educate the next generation.

I have three grandchildren; the youngest is 3 years old. It is predicted that by 2030, England will have reached carrying capacity (it has been updated recently). She will be prime breeding age. The future does not augur well.

I am with Attenborough on this one – Homo sapiens is a plague species. Our cortex hasn’t had time to evolve to a point where control over our more ancient hind brain can be trusted. Intelligence doesn’t appear to be an evolutionary advantage. It seems a bleak future indeed.

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Western BMI and the culture of overconsumption

World population pie chart

World population pie chart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What a fascinating thought! The BBC News Health report on 12th July (not a good day in Northern Ireland!) offered readers the opportunity to enter their weight, height, age, sex and nationality into a calculator to gauge their BMI and measure that against global averages using data from other countries.

All well and good; typical of the simplistic nature of these online things. However what caught my eye was that researchers are apparently saying that the increase in obesity could well have the same impact on global resources as an extra billion people. Well, wow! I hadn’t quite equated those two things. Now I am beginning to.

If the global population is about 7 billion and global obesity ratings equate to an increase of another billion on top of that, the projections for 8 billion actual people on the planet means we are near the 9 billion that is projected for 2030. Whoops!

Now that makes the whole scenario more interesting (from the perspective of the fly on the wall). I subscribe to Population Matters which is the new name for the old Optimum Population Trust that is a great resource for all things global and to do with population growth, density, ethnicity, health, planning and all the rest in this growing list. The list is so long it actually does seriously encompass everything we do. This quote from Attenborough is part of their header page.

“All environmental problems become harder – and ultimately impossible – with ever more people.”

Sir David Attenborough

It seems the awareness of the burgeoning global population with this little added fillip of observation by researchers appears to increase the delusionary aspect of human perceptive ability. People refuse to think that any problem related to any population be it human or not has anything to do with them.

It is almost like thinking that you are part of the human race until there appears to be a massive problem that is outside your own personal control and then you become the fly on the wall – an observer rather than a participant and a much safer place from which to declaim.

It would seem to be actually impossible to pound the necessary information and its implications into the thick heads that constitute humanity. Even the better educated ones of us living in developed countries with magnificent lifestyles (comparatively speaking) have little if any sense of responsibility to our species’ genetic survival.

It is fair to say that we are in the middle of an extinction period but we seem unable to appreciate any stretch of time longer than our life spans. Except if it is history – then we lift the palette and a brush and colour the historical canvas with our biases. So that’s not much good for a real view either.

I know that I do it and I am no different from anyone else. I taught history to students from the middle east in the 1970s and their view of their history was so removed and insular from my view of their history that it brought me up short. It was an eye opening experience to understand how different we all are while being all the same.

Anyway enough of that. The bare facts are:

  1. We need to curtail our breeding not least because medical technology is advancing at such a rate that we are not longer replacing ourselves but increasing our number insupportably.
  1. We need to stop consuming as much as we do in the privileged and wealthy areas of the world. This means a deliberately enforced austerity so that our consumption of food and associated problems do not constitute a greater consumption (also unsustainable) of available medical and health services.

We seem blithely unaware of our seriously unfortunate fellows in truly awful places with little or no food, health, medical aid, water, electricity and suffering from heaps of diseases.

Being white, middle class and having an income (wherever it may come from) is just terrific for maybe the next 30 to 50 years (if that long). It can’t last.

Time we all saw a sliver of reality amongst the neon.

Happy 50th WWF & please pass the elephants

Ah! The beautiful Panda

Spring is in the air and it is the 50th anniversary of the founding of WWF. An organisation that has overseen a lot of humane treatment to wildlife and is lauded by the likes of David Attenborough who has brought so much footage of wildlife in all its beauty and danger to all of us. So, yes, heartfelt good wishes for the 50th anniversary of the founding of WWF.

The BBC has a TV programme called The Big Question aired on Sundays. Yesterday, the programme broadcast a segment on whether endangered animals need legislated rights. Wildlife is protected under international law but does not have ‘rights’ legislation. This particular Big Question was posed in part to signify the half century of existence of the WWF.

The working introduction from the presenter seemed to be that the pandas are dying, leatherbacks are being eaten and big cats are being hunted/poached, all to extinction.  Elephants are being hunted and killed by big game hunters and poachers alike, so the story goes. These instances are obviously only highlighted against a huge backdrop of current extinctions and habitat destruction.

Lovely thing

Don’t get me wrong, I am a very squishy person when it comes to animals. I can’t help it. They get to me – I hate seeing a big cat catch its dinner – the dinner plate is filled with big, soft brown eyes that – as Attenborough says – make me feel protective. It’s a natural human response. And I love cats too, big and wild and little and domesticated.

It doesn’t make me want to go and kill all the big cats so that all the baby deer and antelope can play. I am able to see and understand the concept of food chains and, critically, where we as humans sit on this chain.

Elegance personified

What it doesn’t make me do is bleed all over a TV production floor and say things like ‘animal rights are essential to protect the ecosystem on which we all depend.’ I mean how ill-thought out is this statement? Let me tell you.

I am prepared to state without fear of contradiction that if we as humans controlled our appetites to breed, to rapaciously grab all available and not so available land and over consume available resources, no animal would need rights or protection and we all would, indeed, be able to depend on our ecosystem(s). Normal extinction and evolution imperatives would operate on life, including us. At the moment, we are propelling ourselves inexorably toward our own extinction without waiting for evolution to work its unconscious manipulation on our species. Not so bright of us really. And every other species will make this journey with us because of our behaviour.

Why is it that people seem to wilfully ignore that Homo sapiens is part of this species’ endangering? The bleeding hearts seem to think that the cute panda doesn’t need to learn (in an evolutionary sense) to eat anything else to survive except its own brand of bamboo. Well, in all probability, the panda won’t have the requisite evolutionary time to adapt to any other food source. Man’s increasing need to reallocate the diminishing bamboo forests for his own use means that humans are destroying the panda’s habitat. So the panda dies out but guess what? Homo sapiens doesn’t, well, not yet.

I know that hunting licences are issued at a cost of tens of thousands of which ever currency. I know that some of that licence fee goes to wildlife care, ranger wages and poacher detainment. Okay, that is attempting to save endangered animals. It can’t be done without money. Not in the big world of human kind.

‘Not sustainable in the long run’ cried someone in the audience and she is right, at least in a sense. No attempt to save endangered species is sustainable while ever humans encroach on wildlife habitat. Homo sapiens will continue to do that until he annihilates himself or severely, yea, punitively limits, curtails or otherwise licences his own population growth.

A woman objected to the use of ‘Wildlife Management Plan’ proposed by an audience participant who had hunted elephants. She said that ‘we are all in this together’. Well, I suppose I agree with her but I want to know what’s wrong with a ‘Management Plan’ for Homo sapiens as well as for elephants.

Numbers are on the rise

We are too tender and precious to apply conscious management to our own breeding and our present global plight is the result of such non management. Something is skewed in the way we seem to view ourselves as distinct from other animals. I hope it isn’t unthinking genetic obeisance or supreme arrogance – could it be religious precepts?

The single common thread running through this whole debate about endangered species and their right to continue to exist is the proliferation of our species and the effect we are having (cumulatively) on our global habitat. This is a finite planet and we seem to be chewing it and everything on it up at a most alarming rate.

The debate devolves into words, words and more words producing the longest talk fest ever (with the possible exception of the climate change debate). These debates should include the realisation that at the heart of species’ existence or extinction is the burgeoning and largely uncontrolled growth of one intelligent, rapacious and ruthless species, Homo sapiens.