Destroying our planet

When I was a kid, every second Sunday at 1pm I would wait in the corridor that stretched up to our front door for my big brother Luke to arrive.

He was always late, but he also always brought an ice-cream container or plastic bag full of treasure. Once, he brought over the whitened skeleton of a sea urchin that he had found while snorkelling. I remember thinking that I’d never seen anything so perfect. I put it in the front row of my nature cupboard, in front of my collection of smooth and stripy stones and broken birds eggs.


Me and my brother Ben (isn’t he adorable) around the time when I became obsessed with slaters and their ability to turn into tiny little slater balls. 

Dad and I would go for walks around Strathfield and and do the same. I would collect pocket fulls of leaf skeletons or pick little bits of amber sap off tree trunks, and dad would take photos of ibises poking in bins or mushrooms pushing up through concrete.

Loving nature has always been a big part of my life. Too big sometimes – like the time when I tried to save all the snails from Dad’s snail baiting and just ended up with hundreds of dying snails under my bed and used mum’s good mixing bowls to build little tombs for them in the backyard.

Nonetheless, for better or for worse, I have always loved the weird and beautiful things our planet produces. But, until now, for me saving nature for nature’s sake has never been political.

I cared about global warming because millions of people would lose their homes, there would be food shortages and wars. Not because it was cooking our planet or because our beautiful Reef would be destroyed, or because thousands of species would simply vanish.

And slowly over the years that has changed. As I grew older, and my brain slowly started to grasp the corners of what it means that we have completely killed off entire species in the short window of time that we have been on this earth.

We have eradicated the black rhino. Due to human greed, and perhaps ignorance, or perhaps an inability to grasp what permanent destruction means, we have ensured that never again will another big, beautiful black rhinoceros walk on our earth.

There are only three of the odd looking Red River Giant Softshell Turtle left in the entire world because we insist on trashing its home and polluting its wetlands. It’s the world’s largest freshwater turtle. It has a funny snouty nose and lives in mud. And the only three that have survived our brutal interventions are over one hundred years old.

freshwater-turtles-threatened-red-river-giant-softshell-turtle_25937_600x450Image Credit: National Geographic – ‘An Ode to the Odd and Obscure’ 

Right now, due to our obsession with coal and the quick, short-term cash it pumps into our unsustainable capitalist economy, we risk never seeing a polar bear or a penguin again.
We risk killing off sea birds like the Puffin, when global warming heats up the water so much that fish swim away and birds are left without anything to eat.

We are seeing mass die-offs of fish and animals all around the world due to global warming and pollution. Last year, in North America the bodies of ten thousand sea birds were strewn on beaches, and this year another eight thousand have been found dead in Alaska.

All over the world whales, and turtles, are mass-stranding thanks at least in part to pollution and global warming.

And this year alone over 35 separate incidents of mass fish die-offs have been reported.

As this horrible story of destruction unfolds around the world, here in Australia we are watching the death of our Great Barrier Reef and the thousands of species it is home to. Over 93% of our Reef has been bleached, and up to 50% might already be dead.


Image credit: Creative Commons: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011

The Great Barrier Reef is the single largest living structure on the planet. You can see it from out of space.

It blows my mind that human beings have worked out how to fly into outer space and look down at our magnificent planet, and see the 2300 kilometres of incredible Reef, and then go right ahead and kill it.

Crispin Hull in the Sydney Morning Herald suggests that “alas, it seems to be in human DNA to destroy the animals that sustain us.” I don’t agree. I think we may have forgotten what is in the human DNA, however.

And that’s why now, for me, nature is political.

I don’t believe that humans are hardwired to destroy our planet. We wouldn’t have got this far if we were, and I don’t believe we are on a death march to slow destruction with no free will or ability to look outside of ourselves.

History tells us that humans can do remarkable things for no reason other than love or compassion or beauty. I don’t believe that that has been eradicated along with the Black Rhino or the Javan Tiger.

I believe that our political system has been geared to serve the vested interests of a few who control the big money and have big influence. I also believe that their influence is overstated and that it is possible for us to show our politicians that there is another way.

Part of that is challenging the inevitability that either the Liberal or the Labor Party will always have control. It’s not inevitable, there is nothing predetermined about it, and the sooner they realise that (and the sooner we do) the sooner they will have to answer to public demands.

And part of that is challenging the cultural notion that humans are intrinsically are driven by self-interest. I don’t believe that the evidence backs the hard-held view that we are. It seems to me, one of the biggest traps we ever fell into was the idea that humans are both self-interested and rational (that latter has consistently been proven to be untrue). This belief, in turn, gives more power to narratives that suggest that greed or self-interest is inevitable; and thus not worth challenging.

Whereas in fact, I think challenging those two things is the only way we can save our planet.


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