Sunset at Papeete, French Polynesia. Photo: Pilottage via Flickr (CC BY).
ALERT: Critically Endangered Species: Homo sapiens
11th May 2016
The IUCN has mysteriously placed Homo sapiens outside its systems of thinking when defining the criteria for Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable Species, writes Willemijn Heideman: our collective inability to tackle our existential crises makes our survival on this planet a highly uncertain prospect.
Or we could just get our act together. Decide what actions to take and stick to them. We are entitled to change the system. It's not the governments' system, or the markets' system. The system is ours. Just like the planet is the house of our children.
Forget Lonesome George the tortoise who was the symbol for conservation efforts all around the world. He died alone in 2012.
There is one species that so far has escaped the scrutiny of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) of categorizing all species and that is us.
Now, you might say: there are approaching 7.5 billion people on earth and you could hardly call that a critically low number. And you are right the number is not critically low. It is critically high. It has been growing exponentially since the 18th century as can been seen in the picture below. And this is exactly where the problem lies...
Exponential growth in a biological system occurs when the number of organisms in a culture increases exponentially until an essential nutrient is exhausted.
You probably remember the experiments from biology class, where you would grow cultures of bacteria on a petri dish. If you don't remember, or haven't done the experiment, just watch the exponential growth of E.coli. The colony grows rapidly in the petri dish up until it has depleted all the food.
Then it dies.
Well, we humans are on a petri dish as well. It is called Earth. Resources on our petri dish are finite by definition and we are consuming them at high speed. On top we are polluting our petri dish and we have placed it in on a burner ...
Now we all, to some extent, perceive that the heat is on. We know that we are under severe stress for survival. We know that we are caged like the E. coli.
For some reason the IUCN has placed the fate of Homo sapiens outside their systems of thinking, when defining the criteria for Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable Species. IUCN has failed to recognize the fact that populations both have an upper and a lower critical threshold for species survival.
But, I didn't know...
It is not like we have not been warned. We have been warned on different levels:
We have been made aware of the problems on our crowded petri dish by numerous leading scientists, such as the Australian scientist Professor Frank Fenner, who helped to wipe out smallpox. He predicts humans will probably be extinct within 100 years, because of overpopulation, environmental destruction and climate change.
We have been warned about the dangers of climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over and over again.
Now, I must admit that these warnings are not my field of expertise. But I know that large parts of humanity tend to value religion over science, so I figured it makes sense to mention some of the religious warnings. (Honestly, I can't believe that I just looked this up, but hey ... all for the good cause).
Jesus for instance, warned for doomsday on numerous occasions, such as written in the Bible Matthew 24: 4-14. The Quran states in 47:18: "Are they waiting until the Hour comes to them suddenly? All the signs thereof have already come. Once the Hour comes to them, how will they benefit from their message?"
Then there's cultural warnings. In popular culture many stories, movies or songs are available that address the 'state of the world'. Some of these works have specifically made to communicate in an accessible, understandable way. We have:
- Popular scientific books like the book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond;
- An almost unlimited list of Apocalyptical movies
- The brilliant trash metal CD by Megadeth, Countdown to Extinction, where Dave Mustaine has vocalized the quite formidable words:
All are gone, all but one.
No contest, nowhere to run.
No more left, only one
(Just think of being the only one left, like Lonesome George.)
But, I don't care ...
Now, what I don't understand is our collective inertia. It seems that there are two dominant states of mind.
We have around 3 billion people who are in direct survival mode, because their living standards are below the poverty line or because they are living in a war struck region. I don't think you can blame those people for not looking further ahead than tomorrow.
But there is no excuse for the remaining 4.5 billion people, who seem to have collectively stuck their heads in the sand like ostriches. These 4.5 billion people is us.
We let our governments sign fancy treaties like the Paris Agreement negotiated at COP21 last December, with (semi) clear targets and goals. We have let them sign treaties many times, but we have done nothing when the governments failed to deliver. Maybe we have uttered some protests, but we went back to normal soon. Planning our holiday to a sunny destination.
We let our companies conduct fraudulent business like the Volkswagen Diesel-gate. Again we uttered some complains, we might even consider boycotting Volkswagen. But we will happily buy a new car by another producer.
As far as I can tell, there are three scenarios:
- Continue in the halfhearted way that we are doing now. Making promises for the better, but not keeping them. We could make ourselves believe that there is another petri dish out there called Mars, like Elon Musk seems to think.
- Acknowledge our problems and openly declare that we don't give a shit. Après nous, le déluge. In this case, we can throw all climate change and population growth curbing actions overboard. 'Enrich' our drinking water with Crystal Meth. Organize the Olympic Fossil Fuel Burning Games. After all, we only have 95 years to go till our extinction. We might as well spend those 95 years partying.
- We could just get our act together. Decide what actions to take and stick to them. We are entitled to change the system. It's not the governments' system, or the markets' system. The system is ours. Just like the planet is the house of our children.
Now, do we REALLY need to vote on this....?
Willemijn Heideman is a Quality and Improvement Manager, EcoLogical Thinker & Professional Questioner based in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
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© Willemijn Heideman, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willemijn Heideman with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. This article was originally published via Linked-in.
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