Fr Kevin Hegarty
Halloween is a time for scary stories. Sometimes reality is more terrifying. Recently Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at the World Wildlife Fund, asserted that ‘we are sleepwalking at the edge of a cliff’.
He was speaking at the launch of his organisations 2018 ‘Living Planet Index’ report. According to it, humanity, in the drive for greater consumption and higher profits, has wiped out 60 percent of mammals, fish and reptiles since 1970. He added that “if there was 60 percent decline in the human population, that we would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”
The most significant cause of loss is the destruction of natural habitats, such as forests, to create more farmland. Every two months in Central and South America, it is estimated that an area the size of Greater London is cleared of trees. Wildlife populations on rivers and lakes have also declined drastically, while the oceans are dangerously over fished by industrial trawlers.
According to Professor Bob Watson, an eminent environmental scientist, “Nature contributes to human wellbeing, culturally and spiritually, as well as through the critical production of food, clean water and energy, and through regulating the earth’s climate, pollution, population and floods. The Living Planet report clearly demonstrates that human activities are destroying nature at an unacceptable rate threatening the wellbeing of current and future generations.”
Allied to the severe reduction in biodiversity, there is the growing challenge of climate change. In her new book ‘Climate Justice’, former president Mary Robinson provides some stark facts. She refers to a 2014 UN report, written by leading climate experts, that should the world remain on its present course of consumption we will reach 4 degrees of global warming by the end of this century.
Warning of more than 1.5 centigrade above 1880 levels would lead to the loss of 90 percent or more of all coral reefs. An increase of 2 percent would almost double current water shortages around the world and lead to a massive drop in wheat and maize harvests.
Vicious heat waves would become the norm. Flooding of coastal cities, as in Houston, Texas in August 2017, would become common, forcing millions of people to lose their homes. Global warming of 3 percent above pre-industrial levels ‘would precipitate an extensive extinction of species around the globe, rendering much of the globe uninhabitable’.
For almost half a century, Mary Robinson has campaigned for social justice in Ireland and abroad. Climate justice is her latest project. She set up her own foundation to on the issue, founded on the principals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Conservation of Climate Change. Her aim was to connect developing and rich industrialised nations so they could exchange ideas on the way forward.
For example, in 2013 her organisation joined with the Irish Government in holding a conference, entitled ‘Hunger, Nutrition and Climate Justice’ at which was attended by many climate change activists, EU commissioners, Irish politicians and former US vice president Al Gore. Her book contains many inspiring stories of local activists who are making a real difference in confronting the challenge of the decline in bio-diversity and climate change. Their stories show that all of us can do something and should do something about the most important issue of our times.
Tanya Steel the chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund put it well when she said, “we are the first generation to know we are destroying the planet and the last that can do anything about it.”