Something has changed over the past two years. My home is bordered along the back by a row of large cedar trees. When I moved here some 15 years ago one of the delights I discovered was being awakened in the mornings by the chirps and songs of a seemingly massive variety of small birds that nested in those cedars.
Last year that stopped. This year it's been the same. My neighbour has several feeders in her yard and she says the usual birds haven't been coming to her place either, not even to eat.
Something seems to be happening, but what?
Then I came across an article in The Guardian about a severe and massive decline in flying insect populations in Germany. A 75 per cent decline. That's pretty drastic.
Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.
“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”
Could something akin to that be underway out here on the island? It's hard to imagine. We don't have any industrial agriculture in the vicinity, just rocks and Christmas trees.
That said, the World Wildlife Fund in conjunction with the London Zoological Society and other agencies has been warning us over the last several years how severely human activity is pummeling other forms of life on Earth. The Living Planet Report of 2014 took an inventory of terrestrial animal life on the planet and found we had collapsed the total numbers by 50 per cent since the 1970s, the neoliberal era. The Living Planet Report of 2015 inventoried marine species over the same time frame and, again, found a loss of 50 per cent. The Living Planet Report of 2016 updated the loss figures for terrestrial and marine life at 58 per cent since 1970.
There is a confluence of events that occurred in the early 70s. That was when mankind drove the world into "overshoot." That's when our population passed the 3 billion mark and our consumption of the Earth's renewable resources - water, air, biomass - exceeded the planet's carrying capacity. We exceeded the world's capacity to cleanse our pollution and waste output. We began drawing more surface and groundwater than the Earth could replenish. We began exploiting more of the planet than was needed for the survival of other species and their numbers began to plummet.
This research connected the dots, linking climate change to two other existential threats, overpopulation and over-consumption/depletion of natural resources. From 3 billion in the early 70s, we've grown to 7.5 billion today en route to at least 9 billion, possibly by 2030-2040. And, while we've done that, our per capita consumption and our per capita environmental footprint has continued to expand rapidly with the emergence of new, massively populated emerging economies in India and China.
And yet, even as these events of the past forty years - just forty years - have unfolded; even as the research has come in revealing how severely we're overtaxing the planet, Spaceship Earth, our one and only biosphere; even as the early onset impacts of our excesses begin to send us reeling; our politicians, including Canada's, still pursue perpetual, exponential growth. They believe their policies are constructive, positive when they're actually nihilistic. And you and me, we're just along for the ride.