Last night, I sat and braced myself for David Attenborough’s one off episode ‘Extinction: The Facts’. As a Conservation Biologist, I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy watch. I knew it was going to send me into a wave of panic and eco-anxiety - an ongoing battle of mine. But I wanted to face it nevertheless. I refuse to bury my head in sand - the extinction crisis isn’t going to disappear.
Firstly, I was shocked and relieved to see The BBC using such violent footage - from snakes being drained of their blood to gigantic trawler nets suffocating a whole ecosystem of fish, to burnt koalas trying to escape forest fires. Typically, I tend to find the BBC tiptoeing around this topic, so it was great to see them taking their gloves off.
A journey of truth
It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed when being presented with such hard facts:
- One million species out of 8 million on earth are now threatened with extinction.
- Since 1970, vertebrate populations – birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles – have declined by 60%.
- While extinction is a natural process, studies suggest that extinction is now happening hundreds of times faster than the natural evolutionary rate. It is also accelerating. The blue line represents extinction occurring under natural circumstances. The red line is the extinction rate caused by us. Since 1500, 570 plant species and 700 animals have gone extinct.
- Many deadly viruses which had led to pandemics, have infected us through the use of abusing wildlife and destroying nature - bringing us into close contact with animal diseases. Scientists have also linked our destructive relationship with nature to the emergence of Covid-19.
- By degrading the quality of our soils and air (through deforestation and intensive agriculture) - we are threatening our food security and air quality.
But, there are solutions
This documentary takes us on a powerful journey that makes us realise what is driving these ecological issues: over-consumption, unethical corporations, huge pressure on the meat and dairy industry and lack of political will.
Most importantly, we must remember that people and political will can and does make CHANGE. Towards the end of the show, Sir David reminisces on his intimate time with the mountain gorillas which were on the brink of extinction on an all-time-low of only 250 individuals. He sat there sure to believe these incredible creatures would be gone within his lifetime. Their habitat was under rapid conversion from forest to agricultural fields.
Now, an enlightened scheme taking money from tourists and using it to pay the local community to protect them and their crops, has seen the great apes population rise to over 1,000. So, if one of the poorest and most densely populated places in Rwanda, a place fueled with political tension can make these changes to benefit people and nature, it can happen anywhere.
Reflecting this achievement he said, “I do truly believe that, together, we can make 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 ecosystem.”
Small changes, big impact
If you’re feeling as moved as I am, or angry and stressed about the extinction crisis, there are small actions we can all take which make a profound impact:
- Consume less - only what you need. The average person in the UK consumes nearly 4 times the amount of resources compared to the average person in India. This figure rockets up to 7 in the USA. Only buy if you really need something, and if you do, choose reloved and secondhand first wherever possible.
- Be food conscious. Reduce your dairy and meat consumption. Only buy sustainable or MSC fish. Buy local and in season to reduce air miles and support local businesses.
- Say no to single-use items clogging up our land, rivers and oceans.
- Challenge your local MPs to build bigger, stronger robust environmental laws. They need to feel the pressure from the public that we’ve had enough of nature being decimated in exchange for corporate growth. Ask them to stop importing unsustainable products into the UK market.
- Support nature charities like Rewilding Britain, WWF, Marine Conservation Society, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and RSPB who are fighting to protect nature and restore degraded habitats.
- Switch your energy provider to 100% renewables.
- Ask your local MP to support a #greenrecovery from the pandemic. To make investments that are good for people and the planet - such as tree nurseries, home insulation and solar power construction. All examples which create jobs and make our country cleaner and are strong economic multipliers.
- Research the brands you’re buying from. What are their eco-credentials? Or are you funding them to pollute our land, air and water? Are they removing habitats and driving biodiversity loss? Remember, for every £1 you spend, you’re casting a vote on the type of world you want to live in.
- Check that your products contain sustainable palm oil. Keep an eye out in your bread, cosmetics, cakes and even pizza and toothpaste. If it isn’t sustainable farmed, ditch the brand.
- Reduce your food waste. 40% of all food in the UK goes to waste. Less pressure on our food systems means less land, less pesticides and less social degradation.
If everyone is courageous enough to become a little less selfish and impulsive with their buying, we can change the course of our destiny.
"What happens next", says Sir David, "is up to every one of us."
Thank you, for letting me share my thoughts on our journey of extinction education with you.
You can watch the documentary on BBC iplayer here.