As the world plunges into political and health care crises, neglecting our rapidly depleting resources does no good in any capacity to not just us, but the natural world around us, as well.
By Varda Mehrotra
To say that this year in particular has been a ‘challenging’ one for humanity as a whole would perhaps be doing not only a disservice to the word itself; but also is an exercise in making a laughable understatement in the process. But when we think of the losses, the destruction, the uncertainty, we tend to – perhaps by an intrinsic sense of human narcissism embedded within all of us – only view the challenges from human perspectives. The vacations plans we lost, the people we know that are ailing, and the loss of money and profits, or both; while all palpable and valid grievances, make no consideration or space for our natural world around us and all the creatures that live within it -which too, are in an urgent crisis.
Therefore, this World Conservation Day – while observed every year on July 28th, must not just be like any other observed before – much in line with the tone of this entire year. As the world plunges into political and health care crises, neglecting our rapidly depleting resources does no good in any capacity to not just us, but the natural world around us, as well. As Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity bluntly stated earlier this year – if 2020 is just “another year for conferences”, humans risk living in a barren “empty world”.
The writing’s on the wall, and has been for years – a study published three years ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), fully vetted and peer reviewed to boot, chooses to withdraw the formal, cold tone of scientific language in favour of language intended perhaps, to illuminate just the gravity of situation – calling the loss of wildlife and natural resources “biological annihilation” that signifies a “frightening assault on the foundations of human civilisation.” The sixth mass extinction event is very much underway, and at the helm are humans – blazingly reckless or ignorant, or even both.
Mrema had reminded us all in her interview with The Guardian post her appointment as the executive secretary that the lives of the people depended on the biodiversity in ways which were not always apparent or appreciated, adding that the human health ultimately depended on the ecosystem services – fuel, availability of fresh water and food sources. But a reminder is only as good as the people that heed it. The signs all cue towards stronger assaults on biodiversity which paints a rather sad picture of the future of all life on Earth, including human life.
What can be decisively said, then, is that this World Conservation Day is not just an opportunity, like the ones before it – but a need, and a necessity. It is no longer a mere luxury, a breezy option on the individual level, to turn inwards and examine the ways in which we conduct our lives and whether that actively harms the world. A healthy environment with sustainable resources underpins not just our very existence, but the existence of those that will come after us – and unless we want to leave behind a world bereft of any of our environmental splendour for our children, change has to start now.
Asia has seen the most species lose their natural dwellings, their range (Source: PNAS, 2017) with Australia and Africa not far behind; and in the time since the publication of the study, the loss could have be even more graver – indeed, the devastating Amazonian fires of 2019 and the Australian bushfires 6 months ago all but ensure that.
And so, if we choose to continue to live in ignorance and refuse to act, we seem to be not only complicit in this unchecked carnage, but also proclaim, boldly and unabashedly – Let the world suffer, as long as my immediate, lavish lifestyle can go on uninterrupted. The trees will perish – let them; the creatures will be snuffed out of existence – let them. Is this really the voice of a species so proud of its achievements, of its higher intelligence…or that of a short-sighted collective ridden with hubris? Actions speak louder than words, and so far our actions have been relatively muted, so to speak.
But the seeds of change, much like that of a tree, grow steadily and mighty; provided the initial action of planting it is taken. Thus, both metaphorically and quite literally, the tree of change must be planted now, lest the last remaining plot of fertile soil is lost forever.
(The author is Executive Director, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO). Views expressed are the author’s own.