State of Nature 2016

Today saw the launch of the annual State of Nature report which revealed that 56 per cent of UK species studied have declined since 1970, while more than one in ten – that’s 1,199 species of the nearly 8,000 studied – are at risk of extinction, making the UK one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

Loss of habitat and falling numbers, of course, is a trend seen across the world affecting some of the most brilliant, beautiful and recognisable creatures with whom we are truly blessed to share this planet. One of our favourite Davids – it’s official – Sir David Attenborough has again spoken so eloquently, with the passion and knowledge of a man who has seen many species fall to extinction during his lifetime, urging governments, conservationists and businesses to increase their efforts to halt and perhaps even reverse this staggering decline. He believes we can achieve this and, as it’s Sir David, that gives me much needed hope.

George Monbiot, whose books David and Polly personally recommended back in the early days of this website (on the Important Stuff page), in his Guardian column today, puts it better than I ever could. In a piece entitled ‘We’d never kill an albatross or gorilla: but we let others do it on our behalf’, he writes:

People who would never dream of killing an albatross or a whale shark are prepared to let others do so on their behalf, so that they may eat whatever fish they fancy. People who could not bring themselves to gut a chicken are happy to commission the disposal of entire ecosystems.

Embarrassed? Me too. Which is why I urge you to read the article and the comments that follow it. And if the hard facts break your heart that little bit more, as they do mine, you might feel similarly compelled to take his advice and urge others to consider the way we live our lives and to take a larger share of the blame for the widespread destruction of our wonderful natural world.

We cannot wait for governments or schools or the media to deliver a new environmental ethics. Join the groups trying to defend the living planet; learn about the consequences of what you do; demand – from friends, from parents, from yourself – a better way of engaging with the world. By living lightly we enrich our lives.

Of course, governments should be blamed, not least because they could – and should – start banning all the things we’ve long known to be harmful. They could decide, for example, if they wanted to, that we must all go back to buying milk in glass bottles, not huge plastic containers that encourage waste (to say nothing of the ethics of the dairy industry, vegans, I know what you’re thinking). They could limit imports of non-essential luxury food items now available in supermarkets all year round at great environmental cost, much of which ends up discarded anyway, if only to encourage us to eat more locally grown produce rather than being a noble attempt to make a stand against air miles and carbon emissions. Blame them, too, for allowing unchecked capitalism to run rampant for so long, for creating a world of obscene inequality of wealth whereby many millions cannot afford the luxury of making an ethical choice at mealtimes and can only dream of being momentarily conflicted by First World dilemmas concerning almonds or prawns.

The obsession with economic growth is the reason for so much devastation, encouraging overconsumption, allowing corporations to advertise confected wants over our real needs. We need nature more than we need the rubbish we instinctively load into our oversized shopping trolleys and wheel to our oversized cars.

But we are all responsible, no matter how green our credentials. We pledge to eat less meat, to take the train more often, to waste less food, but it’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough.

‘Nature loss linked to farming intensity’ was one of the day’s headlines. ‘No shit, Sherlock’, as the young people say. We believe we need ever greater quantities and variety of food to (over)feed our growing population, which demands houses and schools and hospitals and roads, so we keep on building. How can sprawling urbanisation possibly fail to wipe out all sorts of native species over time? We replace their vibrant habitat with our very own concrete jungle and wonder why we don’t hear so many birds singing any more.

So, there you have it. I’m even more miserable than usual today. The chatroom is open, if you’re brave enough to visit and keep the conversation about certain concerts that are just a few more days away…