Extinction a harder case than climate change?

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His name was Voortrekker. He was the last giant bull elephant of a unique herd adapted to the Namib desert. The survival of African elephants is already perilous. But the loss of key bull elephants to a herd can destroy the prospects for them all. An elephant is killed for its tusks every 15 minutes. Colonial and post-colonial land changes and management practices saw hundreds of thousands killed, and now conservationists struggle to save those that are left from habitat loss, conflict with farmers, poachers, trophy hunters, the ivory trade and drought. Fifty-year-old Voortrekker was shot by a trophy hunter exercising a Government permit that was justified by conflict between elephants and local communities. Concerned citizens from around the world had already bought out his trophy fee and prevented his death once. This time, the price on his head of $NZ120,000 was paid by a foreign recreational marksman killing for status and for fun.

His name was Wolverine. He was a Northern Right Whale with a slash of propeller marks across his tail stock that reminded researchers of the comic book hero of that name, and he lived to only nine years old. He’d survived three entanglements in fishing gear, and was found dead in the Gulf of St Lawrence in June in a pool of his own blood. His death was followed by another five of his kind, of the last of the 411 Northern Right Whales on Earth. Among the six dead last month was Punctuation, named after the scars on her head. She was 38, a prolific breeder and essential for the survival of the species. She died from ship strike, which is for no reason at all, which with entanglement in fishing gear, is pushing these whales over the edge of extinction long after whaler’s harpoons drove them to the brink. It’s thought that as the seas warm with climate change, the whales follow their prey moving further north, into heightened human threats which are responsible for the latest unsustainable spate of deaths.

On the other end of the spectrum, his name was George. He came from the ‘extinction capital of the world’, Hawaii, and he was the very last known of his species of Hawaiian land snail, Achatinella apexfulva. He lived to the old snail age of 14 but has no successors, no compatriots; and many other Hawaiian land snail types face the same end of the line.

Here in New Zealand, Māui and Hector’s dolphins ride a similar trajectory, as whole families of unnamed dolphins die in fishing nets offshore, unobserved, often unreported. And without even the benefits of charismatic megafauna status, in  Canterbury the Eyrewell forest owned by Ngai Tahu, is felled and converted to dairy farming, taking the Eyrewell beetle with it into the annals of extinction history.

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Across the globe, humans have never lived better, with generally longer life expectancy and survival of curable diseases. We have a cell phone in every pocket, even if we don’t always have portable water. We rail against climate change while extinction occurs in every niche. Information and celebrity news are at every person’s finger tips, but we can also know the names of the individuals of endangered species, and track CO2 emissions, the rates of icesheets melting, how much environmental overshoot we’ve reached so far this year. We live with the benefits and comforts of past deforestation, despoilation and degradation. Much of today’s quality of life is based on the earlier harvesting of whales but we’re horrified where whaling occurs now. Our fish and chips is at the cost of  Maui and Hector’s dolphins in real time.  But with the benefit of technology, we can count the cost. We’re right to be worried about the state of the environment for tomorrow while we destroy nature today.

But the extinction of elephants, whales, dolphins, animals and invertebrates around the world has its roots in imperialism. Colonisation, war, alienation and enclosure of lands, capitalism, itself has destroyed indigenous human and animal relations and communities on land and at sea. We’ve pushed biodiversity to the margins into tentative and perilous positions, exacerbating conflicts with subsistence farmers or poverty stricken communities.

In response to unfolding horrors and fears of calamity, Extinction Rebellion calls on Governments to declare a climate change emergency, to end biodiversity loss and to create Citizen’s Assemblies. And indeed, governments and councils around the country and around the world have declared an climate emergency in turn. But even if we kept CO2 emissions to the aspirational 1.5 or 2 degrees, we still face a genuine existential crisis. We can’t save the world by symbolism, tokenism, or slogans. We can’t save species with declarations or by building smarter appliances. We can’t solve the problems of today with the system that created them. If we can’t save Māui and Hector’s here, what hope is there for elephants in developing Africa, or whales in the world’s busiest shipping routes? If we couldn’t save Voortrekker and Wolverine, we definitely couldn’t save the Eyrewell beetle.

But in asking the state for a ‘little bit more power’ in the form of Citizen’s Assemblies while species burn, Extinction Rebellion asks the state for permission to define the problem and the solution. It puts trust in current tools to solve the problems those tools created.

The Extinction Rebellion tactic in the UK of provoking arrest of its protesting members, to clog up the court system and to recruit the police to the side of dissenters is a privilege of those not already targeted and marginalised by the state.

Calling for villagers not to kill elephants destroying their crops, or tigers killing their children, are just causes for us in the west. But we live in the luxury of the system that’s delivered goods to us at the expense of those communities and ecosystems and species.

Writer George Monbiot has called for an end to “green tinkering and ‘micro-consumerist’ bollocks”, that sees us finding virtue in changing from lightweight, handled plastic bags to heavy duty plastic bags or paper, plastic cotton buds to card, or our petrol cars to EV. He says ‘don’t change your cotton buds, change the system’.

Attempts to address climate change will be fraught if we don’t stop the extinction crisis, and we can’t stop the extinction crisis if we don’t stop the economic engine that drives the extraction, pollution, exploitation and appropriation of people and nature alike, and where the costs and benefits fall unevenly and conflict is inherent.

In recent years, since it’s been publicly popular, we’ve seen that economic engine harnessed to ‘green capitalism’, ‘green-growth’ and product switching, which ameliorates one type of harm at best, where products are cynically rebranded ‘green’ but still drive species loss, untenable resource use and extraction, conflicts between people and nature and often further displace environmental and social impacts onto the global south.

Climate change is just one force impacting on the extinction crisis, and even in the face of half-hearted governmental measures and solutions shackled to market incentives, and because there are market benefits to be had, it may be an easier problem to solve than species loss altogether.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Acceptance that human population has to be reduced rapidly, wilderness set free from human exploitation and an overriding ethos of shame placed on any investment into luxury goods, processed foods, and international trade..

    There is not an answer for other species and the environment while we agree to accept what we are doing today.

    The oceans have been thrashed. Leave them alone.
    Wilderness developed so humans can eat more meat. Shame on the meat eaters as you are a massive problem. Your grubby habit cannot be justified nor the damage done to the atmosphere with forests being cleared so you can stuff yourself with toxic cancer related dead animal flesh.

    This is nothing to do with Veganism so find another excuse.

    Every bit of land cleared for housing displaces a community of fellow Earthlings causing loss of important populations we ultimately rely on.

    To many bloody people, too many cars, planes and ships and rich pricks who don’ give a fuck. Our enemies.

  2. Plenty of “portable” water – all those plastic bottles.

    Increasingly limited potable water – too much of it cheap-as & exported.

  3. The Great Dying wiped out at least 90% of the species on Earth due to an abrupt rise in global–average temperature about 252 million years ago. The vast majority majority of complex life became extinct. based on information from the most conservative sources available, Earth is headed for a similar or higher global-average temperature in the very near future. The recent and near-future rises in temperature are occurring and will occur at least an order of magnitude faster than the worst of all prior Mass Extinctions. Habitat for human animals is disappearing throughout the world, and abrupt climate change has barely begun. In the near future, habitat for Homo Sapiens will be gone. Shortly thereafter, all humans will die.
    There is no precedence in planetary history for events unfolding today. For example, the near-term ice-free Arctic will represent the first such event with humans on Earth. As a result, relying on prior events to predict the near future is unwise.
    This presentation describes self-reinforcing feedback loops ( i.e. “positive feedbacks”) and other contributors to the on going and near-future global-average temperature rise. The combination of these factors indicates Homo Sapiens will join prior species of humans and myriad other organisms in the void of extinction.

  4. “This time, the price on his head of $NZ120,000 was paid by a foreign recreational marksman killing for status and for fun.”

    Can we shoot cowardly wankers like that?? Maybe crowd fund to pay $120k to kill “foreign recreational marksmen for status and for fun”

    • Now now Mjolnir, we can’t condone advocating man hunting per se. But I’m sure a huge range of other options from the twilight zone could be plausible. Propofol for Michael Jacksons what

  5. Until we forego tge notion that we have the right to breed at will, without consequences, then tge human populatiinwill keep expanding, consuming everything like a plague of Homo Sapien Rattus

    We are a pest, a blight, on this planet and it will not end until humans go extinct

    • Hey Doc!

      Man hunting is done every day, paid for and sponsored by USA, UK and many other war mongers. NZ even joins in. eg Korea and Vietnam.

      Yes it is a small mind shift to target destructive, rich narcissistic pricks but they are at large and need to be stopped. The consequence of their destructive impulses are often unchallenged because of our natural empathy and decency.

      So the get away with it.

      Take their money and their guns and put them out into the wild with the animals they seek to destroy.

      • “Take their money and their guns and put them out into the wild with the animals they seek to destroy”

        *like*

    • Some Humans are willing to consume less, live simply and communally without industrialisation and have no kids or one per female.

      They need to separate from the rest who will eventually starve.

  6. Extinction Rebellion.

    Most meaningful analysis, Christine Rose.

    Annihilation of bio-diversity is one of the most terrible and appalling mistakes of humankind.

    Resource base for a system of plunder and cannibalism.

    ………so what?

    For Joe and Jane, AONZ 2019, the actual means for rebellion have shrunk to two public routines: voting by ballot, and social organizing with people of same interest and concern.

    Still, two realistic options for rebellion.

    System Change. Now.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAgpUlhJFb4

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUA2VgLrgn0

  7. Stuff ‘animals’, I want fast food packed in neat plastic, drive my fossil fuel powered high speed and powered car, and have lots of fun, animals are ‘primitive’, multiply and replenish the earth, so God said to mankind. So root your brain out and have fun.

    • Who is this God you are following for fun.

      Will he/she make things right as you fuck up the planet enjoying yourself at the expense of others and future generations.

      How much a week does he charge.

      • Free of charge, it is called Darwinism, or evolution, we will not escape it anyway, have you bought your plot on the graveyard yet?

  8. Christine thank you for this insightful well written blog.

    I will be sharing it with as many as i can.

    “green tinkering and ‘micro-consumerist’ bollocks” pretty much sums up these climate emergencies and banning one source of plastic ONE !!!!

    Until as Jane Goodall said recently we address the problem of poverty which is a direct cause of neo liberal economics we cannot begin to act to address the current disaster that is nearly upon us.

  9. Face it, elephants, rhinos, some whales, some snails and more will become extinct, even the NZ Kiwi will follow.

    Humans are raiders and scavengers of the worst kind, we will ensure the destruction of those past beings that will follow dinosaurs and other species that died out.

    They will be replaced by gene modified and created new animals and plants that will be of use to humans, as humans do what they do, they will dominate and change the world to suit themselves.

    Eventually humans will self extinguish themselves also, it will perhaps take another century or two, but it is certain in my humble view.

    Planet Earth will change dramatically and new species will evolve and take over, once the shit created by humans is gone, including radioactive and many toxic types of waste lasting thousands of years.

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