Hands Off Habitat!

Simmonds et al article

It’s time to gird our hearts to rebel on habitat destruction. A couple of days ago I mourned, the result of reading the remarkable paper (and covering article) by Jeremy Simmonds and three other Queensland scientists. Why mourn? Well, in my neck of the woods, the southern part of Australia, our bird species, both the “endangered” and the backyard ones), have lost well over half of their original habitat. This in a theoretically sparsely populated nation like Australia!

We all know how this happens even in today’s more environmentally conscious era. Land is needed so land is cleared. Conservationists battle some land or sea loss, using conservation laws, but the land destroyers chip away “in the name of necessity,” citing “low impact,” often gaming the system. Habitat loss appears incremental but it’s inexorable.

Surely now is the time to mark out a line: from now on, no more loss of habitat. None! Humankind must make do with what it has and surely it can do that. Even innocuous land clearing must be resisted.

Surely what we need is the equivalent of an Extinction Rebellion. Of course XR addresses habitat and diversity loss, and species extinction, within its ambit of the consequences of unaddressed climate change, but its bigger goals to do with emissions must stand paramount. What I visualise is something focused on precisely habitat loss, a calculus of square kilometres carried out by scientists.

Under legislation called for by such a movement, the onus of proof would not be on the negative impacts on “biodiversity” or this or that species. No, the onus of proof would be on the land clearing applicant – he/she/it would need to prove any land cleared has de minimis impact on all non-human species. Such a movement would defend all land under threat.

What might we call this movement? Land Moratorium? Land Protectorate? Hands Off Habitat? Expulsion Rebellion? 

Species extinctions: Is clarity needed?

Fred Pearce article

A couple of months ago, a British journalist who wrote a number of climate-change-related books over the noughties and into the 2010s, Fred Pearce, penned a trenchant piece titled “Global extinction rates: Why do estimates vary so wildly?” It’s an apt question and one I’d asked myself when I began researching, in the clumsy way amateurs do, the survival prospects of the fifteen Cranes species. Like Pearce, there seemed to me a disjuncture between oft quoted warnings of the current global extinction rate being “up to 100 times higher than the background rate” and my initial study of the IUCN data (the most authoritative), which shows only rare identified extinctions. So I read Pearce’s article with interest.

Unfortunately, the journalist isn’t about to proffer an opinion but merely to canvas the wide range of estimates. By his telling, observed, documented species losses are most infrequent; there may or may not be a gross understatement in the total number of global species often quoted as 1.9 million; modelled extrapolations bring up those assertions of frequent, accelerating extinctions; the whole field is a mess of imprecision.

As of now, I’m in limbo. It’s clear that even if documented extinction rates remain low, average numbers in almost all non-human species have declined and are now declining at faster rates, to the extent that we might be hovering on a precipice of clear vanishings of species. Humankind is undoubtedly bludgeoning and squeezing out the other species. But I am not alone in wanting more precision. And precision only comes about with governments acting with haste to fund concerted, wide-range studies. More science is needed.

The abyss with Roy Scranton

Roy Scranton article

Amongst the more-or-less climate change doomsayers (I say “more or less” because there’s a gradation from doom with hope to the worst extreme), Roy Scranton, novelist and essayist extraordinaire, ranks as depressing but weirdly uplifting. The thing is, he writes so passionately, the writing itself offers bizarre tangential hope.

The day I turn to his “We Broke the World” article in The Baffler, which I’ve kept lurking in a cupboard, my Melbourne sky is blue. I’m alone and lonely. The previous evening I went to my fourth Extinction Rebellion meeting and came away elated but, inevitably, also daunted. So what will Roy tell me this time?

He kicks off with a bravura scene asking me to stare at myself in a mirror and imagine my absence, my extinction. Nigh impossible, he tells me, and unpacks why, together with one of this idea’s consequences:

And so just as we are phenomenologically and cognitively biased toward presentism, which comprises both a strong belief that the future will be much like the present and a tendency to forget how different the past was, so are we biased toward what we might awkwardly call “presence-ism,” which is to say, a belief that whatever exists is and was and will keep on being. This fundamental cognitive bias against thinking non-existence makes certain problems challenging for us to comprehend. One such problem is the idea of extinction. … It takes a strenuous act of imagination to envision the massed herds and flocks of wild animals that once thundered over land now paved with highways and box store parking lots, dotted with cellphone towers, and crisscrossed by diesel-chugging tractor trailers and buses and SUVs.

What Scranton has dragged me to is, of course, the latest IPBES report, released at the end of May, a policy maker summary of its (global) assessment report on the state of Earth’s species. I took a look at the report in July, jotting down notes like ” Global warming fucks everything up. 5% of species could go extinct at +2 degrees, at +3 degrees this is 16%.” My Cranes-centered viewpoint had me gathering facts. What will Scranton conclude, I now wonder?

Scranton tears into the “absurdity almost depraved” of the IPBES science-administrators calling for “transformative change” (hence Scranton’s article title) akin to worldwide revolution. “Failing this,” he says to me, “we all face—all humanity—within our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children—a catastrophic collapse of the biosphere upon which human life depends.” Our presence-ism and presentism points us towards nihilism. After expressing some scientific caveats that can hardly assist, “it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that we’re all totally fucked.”

But there’s a conclusion after the conclusion. Perhaps we can contemplate reality squarely, perhaps we can battle “reactive cycles of rage, depression, bargaining, and denial.” Perhaps I can. Andres, Scranton pleads, return to that mirror, meditate with observance, and “practice saying goodbye.”

Right now, Angel Olsen croons her song “Tonight” from her remarkable album All Mirrors. I put on my shoes and head off to write, to read and write.

We humans can save species!

ICF Whooping Crane update

I don’t know if you’re aware of the stunning success story of the Whooping Crane? Nearly extinct after World War II, decades of dedicated effort by government agencies and volunteers, in particular George Archibald at the International Crane Foundation (which he founded, take a look at it now!), have given rise to a latest count (from the ICF website) of 849 Whooping Cranes, 163 of whom are in captivity.

A couple of months ago, in the depths of existential despair as a result of events and my own reading, I chanced upon the August Whooping Crane Eastern Population Update from the pen of Crane Analyst Hillary Thompson. This discusses the 86 of the overall 849 Whooping Cranes in a handful of northeastern states, mostly in Wisconsin. Reading the report was a balm soothing my raging heart, a song about the dedication that humankind can show to non-human species, in a sense the best of humankind. Hillary Thompson goes into full details on the year’s 19 wild-hatched chicks, all banded and hence kept track of, and that story struck me as modern-day drama. I found myself affected by the final item in the report, “Mortality or Long-term missing.” Here’s what Hillary records: “9_03 (F) was found dead on 3 July at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Juneau Co, WI. Cause of death appears to be predation.”

Thank you, Hillary. Thank you, ICF. Thank you and thank you.

Some look out two years, others like me accept responsibility out to 2100

Scott Morrison speech

I wasn’t as upset as some to hear Scott Morrison’s odd diatribe against climate protestors (see this Age article). What is refreshing is the explication of his moral horizon. It’s natural to expect humans to show great variability in short-termism versus long-termism. Having recently, after much angst, settled on a horizon of 2100, when my youngest grandchild’s children get to middle age, I saw a very much truncated view from our Prime Minister. Digest, if you like, these extracts from his speech yesterday:

Environmental groups are targeting businesses and firms who provide goods or services to firms they don’t like, especially in the resources sector. … They are targeting businesses of all sizes, including small businesses, like contracting businesses in regional Queensland. … It is a potentially more insidious threat to the Queensland economy and jobs and living standards than a street protest. … Let me assure you this is not something my Government intends to allow to go unchecked. Together with the Attorney-General, we are working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians, especially in rural and regional areas, and especially here in Queensland.

Do you sense any horizon beyond right now or maybe one or two years hence (that is, election time)? I don’t. Younger generations pay heed. This is one government not on your side. Let’s work towards a change.