BBC One’s screening on Sunday 14 September of Sir David Attenborough’s new documentary Extinction: The Facts left many viewers shocked, terrified and angry according to some press reports. The hour-long programme saw the legendary natural historian and fellow experts investigate the devastating effects of climate change and habitat loss on wildlife and plant life, and how it’s also impacting humanity and the planet.
Disturbing scenes saw Attenborough detail how a million different species are at risk of extinction due to the biodiversity crisis, which is also putting us at greater risk of pandemic diseases like COVID-19.
Having watched the programme there was a temptation to say “well that’s it, there is nothing we can do, it’s all over”. Attenborough, however would not agree. He concluded the programme on a positive note. “I do truly believe that, together, we can create a better future. I might not be here to see it, but if we make the right decisions at this critical moment, we can safeguard our planet’s ecosystems, its extraordinary biodiversity and all its inhabitants. What happens next is up to every one of us.”
Meanwhile the natural world is in a “desperate” state, with global wildlife populations “in freefall” due to the impact of humans, according to one of the world’s most comprehensive examinations of biodiversity on our planet according to wildlife charity the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Hammering home Sir David Attenborough’s message, the charity’s recently published Living Planet Report 2020 Bending the curve of Biodiversity Loss, https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-09/LPR20_Full_report.pdf paints a startlingly bleak picture of the rapid damage being wrought by modern civilisation, warning “nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before, and this catastrophic decline is showing no signs of slowing.”
The report says that populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have collapsed by an extraordinary 68 per cent on average globally since 1970 – more than two thirds in 50 years. It also finds that intensive agriculture, deforestation and the conversion of wild spaces into farmland are among the main drivers of natural destruction, while overfishing is “wreaking havoc with marine life”.
It wonders if everything we’ve seen in 2020 is enough to make us reset our relationship with nature and points out that we know what needs to be done if we’re to have a chance of putting nature on a path to recovery by 2030. Like Sir David Attenborough, the report strikes a positive note pointing out that with global action to protect wildlife, produce food in better ways, and change what we choose to eat, we can turn things around.
Both Extinction: The Facts and the WWF report make it absolutely clear about the stark choices and consequences before us. As the report concludes;” Citizens, governments and business leaders around the globe will need to be part of a movement for change with a scale, urgency and ambition never seen before.” However, the views of those who say that the very economic system, capitalism, that has landed us in this crisis is just not capable of getting us out, need to be taken seriously.
Writing in The Guardian on 18 March 2019 (Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism. Have we got the stomach for it?) Phil McDuff states; “the existing political establishment looks more and more like an impediment to change. The consequences of global warming have moved from the merely theoretical and predicted to observable reality over the past few years, but this has not been matched by an uptick in urgency. The need to keep the wheels of capitalism well-oiled takes precedence even against a backdrop of fires, floods and hurricanes.”
A year ago Extinction Rebellion started an online bust-up by tweeting, “We are not a socialist movement.” Some say environmentalism without socialism is just gardening. But does it need to be that way? Is socialism the only way for the climate movement to make progress? Or will that limit its appeal? Are sections of the climate movement making a mistake by aligning itself just with the left?
These questions are not yet the subject of mainstream discussion in the climate movement. Surely as the continuing failures of governments and capitalism to actually get to grips with the crisis including by taking action against companies responsible for the devastating effects of climate change become more apparent, such questions will move centre stage and answers will be needed.