We have been warned…again and again

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. Meantime the climate change movement is broadley based and this is a strength, but as the climate crisis increasingly moves centre stage,  this wide coalition will come under pressure and hidden contraditions will surface and will need to be addressed.

 

 

2 thoughts on “We have been warned…again and again

  1. We were indeed warned Barry. I was aware of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” many, many years ago but as an avid follower of BBC radio and TV news and current affairs programmes I thought this was all being properly managed by a trustworthy system of government which worked in the interests of the population at large.
    I came across James Lovelock’s Gaia Theory in the mid 1990’s. He had come up with it in the 1970’s but as an avid follower of BBC radio and TV news and current affairs programmes I had never heard his arguments before. Probably a bit esoteric for them then, but now they celebrate his birthday every year!
    But what could I or anyone like me do about it? I was trying to build a career in a very much less than “green” industry. I was trying to house, clothe and feed my family – “keeping up with the Joneses” – and had a wife who was fully committed to pursuit of the lifestyle images we were bombarded with by the media day in and day out.
    I tried voting for a party I thought might be less committed to destroying the world than Margaret Thatcher’s. Unfortunately Tony Blair sold his soul, and us, to Murdoch, the US Neo-cons and Big Finance. Then Gordon Brown had spent all the money. Then “weird Red Ed Milliband” couldn’t eat a bacon sandwich properly. Then it turned out that rather than being a decent old bloke with an allotment Jeremy Corbyn was in fact an active member of the IRA, the KGB and Hezbollah, and wanted to put all Jews into concentration camps.
    So voting was pointless. Experience tells me that our Government and its policies are decided for us by Mr Murdoch and his associates. This is very easy for them because, as we are endlessly told, the British voters who matter are “aspirational”. What this means is that what they want is for house prices to keep going up and by comparison they don’t give a sh*t about ecology or the environment.
    I realise that I have been very lucky to live during the most peaceful and prosperous times that people in these islands have ever seen. Only recently have I understood that this has been because of the exploitation of resources and populations in other parts of the world, the degradation of our own environment, and the industrial-scale burning of fossil fuels, undoing hundreds of millions of years of carbon sequestration, that will lead to ecological and environmental disaster for humankind.
    The political establishment and capitalism are firmly in control, and change will be cosmetic and marginal until catastrophe reaches its centre. I suspect that you and I will be fortunate if we are not still around to experience what follows.

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