A Call to do Better By Nature

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2020 started with an existential bang. Catastrophic bushfires, drought, international undiplomatic brinkmanship and now Covid-19, it’s felt like we’ve ticked off the full apocalyptic list.

The yellow smoke-filled skies in January made us realise how interconnected planetary systems are when things go bad. Images of burned koalas and kangaroos and other eclectic and iconic Australian species emphasised how anthropogenic activities such as bush clearance interact with other forces such as climate change impacting animals we know and love. Harmless and vulnerable life forms are already in trouble, but big events like Australia’s summer fires, can tip fragile species over the balance. But we seem unable to change our ways – koala and kangaroo culls still occur, deforestation continues, motorways are expanded through remaining habitat.

A 2019 study by The Nature Conservancy and Conservation Science Partners showed that only 5% of the Earth’s land surface is unaffected by human impact. They found 13 human-caused stressors across all terrestrial lands, biomes and ecological regions, including agriculture; human settlement; transportation, including railroads and minor roads; mining; and energy production and electrical infrastructure, including power lines. 52% of ecological regions and 49% of countries are considered moderately modified. Only 30% of terrestrial ecological regions and 18% of the world’s countries have a low degree of land modification and retain most of their natural lands, which are distant from human settlements, agriculture and other modified environments. The human reach is broad and deep.

Despite the warnings of ecologists and activists, for too long, the inertia of capitalist production and consumption has kept us on a path of incremental but inevitable destruction. But as long as we have had the distractions of TV, Netflix and cheap goods, we have been almost collectively oblivious – like the frog in the warming pot of water. Last year we lost iconic individual animals like Voertrekker one of last the great tusker elephants, and Wolverine a rare Northern Right whale; mistreatment of whole species is ongoing, including jaguars, lions and pangolins; habitat fragmentation and ecosystem loss is the price we pay for farming, commodity extraction and ‘progress’; and we see alterations to whole planetary systems, but still we’ve kept on with business as usual.

But the damage done – in the last fifty years of ‘the great acceleration’ especially, means we have less resilience for random – stochastic – events. The damage done to koala habitat for roads and urbanisation for example, means they’re more vulnerable to fires. The harm done to Maui and Hector’s dolphins through fishing, means they’re more vulnerable to disease.

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Urbanisation and mistreatment of wild and farmed animals unleashes zoonotic disease such as Ebola, SARS, MERS and Covid-19. We’ve sliced and diced nature and now she’s fighting back. It’s time for us to take stock. As economies shut down and nature responds with cleaner air and seas, we need to learn lessons and do better by nature in the future.

16 COMMENTS

  1. When we push to the edge of nature , nature will push back .

    Good article Christine . Last sat Kim Hills virologist guest from Cambridge University raised the same point , that over -population forces together humans an wild animals which allows a greater capacity for viruses to jump the species barrier to humans .If we had fewer people with greater distance between the humans and wild Zones the potential for pandemic would be substantially reduced.

    So it does indeed appear that the requirement of neoliberal capitalism for endless population / material and urban growth is indeed related to our current nightmare .

    Stable populations with regenerative sustainable green economies where wild spaces are revalued and expanded may also provide the bonus of a much safer more pandemic free world.

    • So what you are saying is we need a lot less people, less damage to the planet and other life forms and a simpler lifestyle without cars, and other consumer shit that destroys the Non Renewable Natural Resources of which we have nearly exhausted.
      Small changes will do nothing and the pandemic is a minuscule event.

  2. Can we get cruise ships that are immense polluters off the seas as well. Not only huge polluters, but also somehow seem to get a free ride from governments – this one just was allowed into dock in OZ and NZ and deemed a ‘low risk’ of coronavirus, now 48 people tested positive for the virus and it’s the biggest source of infection in Australia!

    https://www.odt.co.nz/news/world/ruby-princess-passengers-deemed-low-risk

    Cruise Ship Pollution Is Causing Serious Health And Environmental Problems
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesellsmoor/2019/04/26/cruise-ship-pollution-is-causing-serious-health-and-environmental-problems/#5eb8b7fe37db

    “According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in the course of one day the average cruise ship produces: 21,000 gallons of human sewage, one ton of solid waste garbage, 170,000 gallons of wastewater from showers, sinks and laundry, 6,400 gallons of oily bilge water from the massive engines, 25 pounds of batteries, fluorescent lights, medical wastes and expired chemicals, and 8,500 plastic bottles.

    Multiply this by those 400 ships cruising year-round and you have a sense of the magnitude of the problem. But there are no accurate studies of how well that waste is disposed of because the ships are not required to follow any state or national laws once in international waters.

    Cruise lines are not required to monitor or report what they release. As a result, neither the government nor the public know how much pollution is released at sea.

    Cruise ships were largely ignored, considered harmless for carrying tourists rather than oil. The awakening came in Alaska ten years after the Exxon Valdez spill. The guilty party was Royal Caribbean. Their cruise ships, which sailed through some of Alaska’s most sensitive harbors and coastal waterways, including the Inside Passage, were caught illegally dumping bilge water containing waste oil and hazardous chemicals. The bilge water routinely dumped by the cruise ships was sufficiently toxic that the U.S.”

    http://energyskeptic.com/2016/the-dark-side-of-cruise-ships-garbage-sewage-and-more/

  3. I think [it’s] simply that we humans are a complex organism that’s by and large insane.
    We’re an unfortunate brew of psychopathic disembodiment AND feeble minded emotional weaknesses and even when we’re at our most comfortable, we yearn to fuck things up.
    That, is why humanity must be a collaborative endeavour because none of us are psychiatrically equiped with the responsibility of going it alone.
    So, whenever you see or read or hear about some humped up, mouthy orange dope billionaire spouting rhetoric about ‘freedom’ and ‘growth’? We know, we know we have another one. Another hitler, another stalin, another douglas. Just another boring little human with a common psychosis and the only joy that’ll come from that misery is to those who enjoy such things. And believe me. There’re more out there who do than you might care to admit.
    Just look around? Is this the best we can do? After all this time. After years and years of evolution, of learning, of traveling to other cultures, of lives of more than we need to a point where we can waste just to get new stuff.
    And our natural world in all its splendour must endure us. As we waste our extraordinary luck to be born to here and to these times.
    How do we begin to apologise to nature for us?

    Farmers? Stop using fucking vile glyphosate. Stop it. Just stop it.

  4. All very nice but how about THIS ?:

    Coronavirus: Tenants told 14-day notices sent if rent not paid …
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/homed/renting/120553052/coronavirus-tenants-told-14day-notices-sent-if-rent-not-paid

    So now we have these cheapsider landlord slum bastards getting in early on the act, eh?

    So what are they going to do?… run screaming like a pack of little girls to govt and whining people aren’t paying rent on time for their doss houses? Not our fault they chose to go into debt to Aussie banks and be subject to their interest hikes? Fuck their price gouging.

    Its good news the fuckers cant raise the rent for 6 months.

    Screw the gabastic bastards. Truth is, if a large number of renters complained about the state of half of these dives these blood suckers would be PAYING people to live in their shitholes.

    And fuck their cozy retirement plans while they subject others to an old age of deprivations.

    There you go.

    Talk about that one.

      • No. No way. Anyone saying that there’s opportunities in a pandemic or is trying to time the bottom has no idea. No one has ever seen this kind of market before. Try and make money out of this you’ll regret it.

  5. “Farmers? Stop using fucking vile glyphosate.”
    Why? I’ve been told to dap it on gorse stumps right after I cut the heads off. The info on the packaging doesn’t suggest it’s that bad.

    • Gorse grows on land that has been cleared of native bush.
      Let the gorse grow and birds will drop seeds into the nitrogen rich soil in the gorse nursery and native shrubs will grow and smother the gorse as a precursor to canopy trees establishing over time.
      Most of AO/NZ was bush or wetlands needed for a healthy biosphere and rich local ecology unlike today.

    • @Peter Barry “The info on the packaging doesn’t suggest it’s that bad.”

      Your blind faith in a multinational corporations selling propaganda is somewhat scary.

      Can I direct you to the ‘info on the packaging’ written above the entrance gate to Auschwitz – ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ or, in english, ‘Work will set you free.’
      If one applies your naive faith to that simple phrase, that packaging info, if you will, then it’s not sounding too bad inside, is it?
      You have heard of the internet Peter, as your posting would attest, so why not exercise those stumpy things at the end of your arms and do some real research into glyphosate and it’s effect on the environment in which we all live. Hang on, I’ll do a wee bit for you.

      On 10 August 2018, Dewayne Johnson, who has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was awarded $289 million in damages (later cut to $78 million on appeal) after a jury in San Francisco found that Monsanto had failed to adequately warn consumers of cancer risks posed by the herbicide. Johnson had routinely used two different glyphosate formulations in his work as a groundskeeper, RoundUp and another Monsanto product called Ranger Pro.

      It KILLS the living things you put it on! KILLS THEM DEAD. And it’s carcinogenic to folks like you and me.

      Well hey shucks, that cant be too bad, right?

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