‘Extinction: The Facts’ – A Rocha responds in hope & action
David Attenborough’s latest BBC documentary, ‘Extinction: the facts’ makes shocking but deeply compulsive watching. Viewers have spoken of being so overwhelmed as to switch off and return later, and being moved to anger and sleeplessness. I wasn’t as depressed as many, and will come back to why. Partly it was that, alongside powerful images of the last remaining Northern White Rhinos, of Orangutans clinging to trees amidst palm oil plantations, of a Koala tip-toeing through burning forest, of industrial fishing fleets decimating the oceans, few of the facts are actually new. Reports from WWF, IPBES and IUCN have been presenting the data for years:
- 30% of soil globally is badly degraded, and 75% of land surface area has been altered to feed just one species, humans
- Wildlife populations have declined by 60% since 1970
- 1 million plant, animal and insect species are threatened with extinction this century
- 175,000 African pangolins were illegally traded into Asia in 2019
- 100,000 trawlers are operating worldwide leaving perhaps less than 5% of large ocean fish remaining
- 90% of the world’s wetlands have been drained or destroyed
- The average UK resident consumes 4x as much, and in the US 7x as much of the earth’s resources, as the average Indian
We’ve known the problem of increasing biodiversity loss for decades, and we’ve known the cause: our human behaviour. What was so striking in the documentary was how humanity is inevitably being impacted by its own folly and greed. As Professor Kathy Willis from Oxford University stated: ‘We’re not just losing nice things to look at. We’re losing critical parts of earth’s system … This year has shown us we’ve gone one step too far.’ The COVID-19 pandemic was entirely predictable. As the documentary stated, ‘Our relationship with nature and how we interact with it drove the explosion of COVID’. Further, potentially worse, pandemics are inevitable unless we change. As pollinating insects decline, food production is affected. As climate change causes extreme weather events, forests burn, floods destroy, cyclones devastate, and both human and animal communities suffer. Global warming leads to the ‘extinction escalator’ as vulnerable species are forced to higher altitudes until there’s nowhere to go.
Where ‘Extinction: the facts’ was somewhat disappointing was in the hope it offered. Yes, it concluded with good news of the recovery from near-extinction of Mountain Gorillas in the Virunga forest of central Africa. Economics Professors Nick Stern and Partha Dasgupta explained how a green economy can be good for planet and people. Yet the abiding image was of wealthy politicians representing vested interests resisting action and even denying the problem.
What has given me hope as I’ve known the facts and seen the devastating losses around the world is, quite simply, being part of A Rocha. For 37 years, A Rocha has worked with local communities to study and preserve habitats and species. We have the track record in our science and our theology. We are working on every inhabited continent and seeing stories of hope, as well as sharing times of tragedy and loss. Most importantly, we know that our work is not in vain because of God’s commitment to his world, and that by prayer God’s Spirit can change human hearts.
A Rocha International incoming Executive Director, Simon Stuart, in accepting the 2020 Blue Planet prize (the ‘Nobel Prize’ of conservation) stated, ‘We stand at a critical moment in history – will we listen to the evidence and start living within the limits set by nature?’ Simon has also said, ‘The pain and sadness we feel over the decline and disappearance of some remarkable species mirrors God’s pain which arises from his own deep love and care for all that he has made.’ For Christians, tackling biodiversity loss is not an optional extra, or only a response to the threats to human thriving. It stems directly from believing that Jesus is Lord of all creation, and that following him means caring for his world. As A Rocha’s co-founder Peter Harris says, ’It is critical that Christian communities around the world really embrace conservation as core business for our mission. We need to put serious resources into caring for the rest of God’s beloved creation – even though the situation has been urgent for a while now, we can still make a major difference.’
So, if you’ve watched ‘Extinction: the facts’ and are wondering how to respond, can I simply suggest joining us in A Rocha? We can provide a community to belong to, a global movement to share stories of hope, and a source for practical ideas. We are desperately overstretched, particularly in countries worst hit by COVID, and if you can help us financially, we have an emergency appeal to support our work in India, Peru and Uganda. We believe that, with your help, we can be part of a practical and hopeful response to the threats of extinction and biodiversity loss.
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