According to a 2105 report published in Science Advance, there is little doubt we are heading, if not already there, into the earth’s sixth mass extinction age. The report argues that:
Under our assumptions, which would tend to minimize evidence of an incipient mass extinction, the average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 100 times higher than the background rate. Under the 2 E/MSY background rate, the number of species that have gone extinct in the last century would have taken, depending on the vertebrate taxon, between 800 and 10,000 years to disappear. These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way.
Earlier this year The International Union for the Conservation of Nature reported that 437 small mammal species are in danger of becoming extinct. The report says: “In some cases populations have collapsed to less than 50 individuals and for others the entire global range is a few kilometres on a tiny island or mountaintop”.
I don’t think I need to remind my readers that we have known about Bee colony collapse or the Pacific Garbage patch that now covers an area twice the size of France. for some time. Ever since Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring, a stinging indictment of a man-made environmental catastrophe, we have been aware that man is the cause for many modern losses of flora and fauna. The data is overwhelming; there is little doubt we are killing the planet. Happy World Environmental Day!
Most of us, and I say most of us, because if it were a minority we wouldn’t be in this mess, gives little thought to our impact on the environment and loss of life. Oh we may say we care, but our actions say otherwise.
I get it, I get, boy do I get it! It’s a subject I guilt about everyday It’s hard not to have an impact on this planet; especially in the western countries. From the moment we rise out of bed to our return, everything we do has some environmental ramifications. From our long wasteful showers to our plastic and fossil fuel addiction, our actions contribute to this sixth extinction.
In a 2009 report from the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health, plastic production and usage exceeds 300 million tons annually; most are not recycled. Our plastic waste is dumped into landfills and as noted already, into our oceans. And for those who do recycle, but use foaming or exfoliating cleansers which up until last year contained plastic microbeads, are non the less, contributing to the sixth extinction. Our plastic addiction is killing ocean and bird life.
The damage we cause by our reliance on modern technology and consumerist need, should be cause for reflection, yet it is not. We convince ourselves we are good stewards of the land, and justify our capitalist ways with all manner of arguments: we need that new phone: shops do not give us a choice between glass and plastic: recycling takes too much time: I don’t have time to cook: I hate taking public transportation, etc., etc. Everyday we come face to face with choices that impact how deep our carbon footprint will leave a mark, yet most of us fail to tread lightly. There is no denying that our choices, or lack thereof, are killing our neighboring species at alarming rates. But where is the outcry? The majority of people are quiet and don’t like it when the subject is raised. In fact, raising the subject of our environmental impact will result is some heavy, opinion based debates, even among those who are usually swayed with facts and data.
Take the subject of meat consumption. I am a vegetarian for several reasons, but the impact on the environment because of our modern meat consumption rate is one of the biggest. Between being a leading cause of carbon emissions and deforestation, modern meat consumption is having devastating effects on our plant. I say modern, because it’s only been in the last 70 years or so that we’ve adopted a meat heavy diet. We now have meat for almost every meal and thanks to fast food and prepackaged “meals” our diet consists of more than three meals a day; something our great- grandparents would have found wasteful. As I write this, more and more land in the Amazon is being cleared for grazing so that we in the west can sustain our meat addiction, and bring it to other countries. Most meat eaters will refuse to even entertain the moral dilemma of what it means to have meat on the table. Most will wave you away if you point out that what is on their plate was once alive and is only dead because of the “need our cheeseburgers!” There is no outcry when livestock is slaughtered or as we accelerate towards mass extinction, yet the death of one gorilla because of a tragic accident has caused the western world goes ape-shit.
I am not going to argue whether the death of this poor animal was justified as I am not a wild-life expert, nor am I going to argue whether the mother of the child who fell into the enclosure should be burned at the stake because I wasn’t there. No, I will not engage in these arguments. There are enough armchair zoo, and child rearing expects out there. I am not interested in their opinion of facts that they do not possess. What I am interested in and want to address is the once again misplaced outrage that many are feeling this week. The collective mind-hive seems to feel the loss of this one gorilla is pitchfork and torches worthy. As if this one gorilla was the only animal loss we’ve suffered in quite some time. But I want to ask, how many of these people, some I know very well, have any comment on the everyday loss of species due to their own actions?
And just so we understand each other, I feel for the gorilla and am sickened by the loss of his life. But I am also sickened by the way our genetically altered chickens, whose breasts are so big that their legs cannot support them, are left to sit until someone cuts off their heads so that we can eat large chicken dinners. I am sickened by the way pigs are caged, affording them no room to move in their short lives, so that we can have bacon. I am sickened to think of the many people who sat tweeting about one gorilla as they sat idling in their SUVs in fast food lines, or argued over the merits of zoos while shopping for goods encased in plastic.
For those who have strong opinions about the death of Harambe, I ask, do you have strong opinions about the loss of life you cause on a daily bases? How about an opinion on your impact on the environment? Where is your outcry over the man-made sixth extinction? If you want to have a discussion about one gorilla, how about a discussion about the loss of life due to mass extinction?
For those who do next to nothing for the environment yet claim to be outraged by one gorilla’s death, I have news for you. You have no moral high ground to stand on. You are just as guilty as you feel the zookeepers are. Take your misplaced outrage and turn it inward. Find ways to lessen your carbon footprint. Educate yourself on what the toll our modern lifestyles has on the environment. If you do this, then maybe, just maybe, we will have some good news for next years World Environmental Day.
Here is a list of ways you can help the gorillas.
Here is a news report on meat consumption