Will we, for that matter can we, turn this around in time? The editorial in the latest Lancet, Planetary Health, focuses on the collapsing populations of wildlife, killed off by humans' voracious appetite for ever more - land, resources, everything.
Global wildlife populations are in freefall. This is the conclusion of a recent WWF report. That might sound like dramatic language but how else should you describe a global situation in which animal populations (mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles) have fallen on average by 68% since 1970? To bring this down to the personal, that means all but the youngest among us were born into a world much richer in natural life than the one we now inhabit, and if we don't change course that will be everybody's legacy. This report is one of the latest in a raft of work showing just how severely human activities are impacting life on earth. A common economic refrain is to argue that economic development initially degrades the environment, but then after a time further development begins to reduce degradation—an idea described by the environmental Kuznets curve. Extending this notion, it would be tempting to think that if we wait long enough, wealth creation will resolve most environmental problems. Unfortunately that downturn in environmental damages simply is not happening at any meaningful scale and, as a new UN report shows, the world has failed to meet a single one of the Aichi biodiversity targets that were intended to encourage reductions in biodiversity loss between 2010 and 2020.
Perhaps it is a symptom of increasingly urban lifestyles and a reduction in the proportion of people with a direct and tangible dependence on the natural world that more people are not personally outraged and worried by the decline of nature.
How many of us connect with nature in any meaningful way and, no, a foray to Sobey's doesn't count. In metropolitan areas, where so many of us live, it's not always easy to access wilderness. In my area all you need is a 4X4 or enduro motorcycle and you can head up old logging and forestry roads or remnants of roads and, before long, you're in wilderness. I haven't done that in over a year. Age, I suppose. And sleeping on the ground isn't as much fun as it once was either. The difference between wilderness and something like a provincial or national park is whose territory it is. Where I liked to go the territory belongs to bears, cougars, wolves and all manner of plantlife and birds. A human is a stranger, an intruder which is why bear spray and maybe a rifle with a fast sight are a good idea.
Maybe our kids or our grandchildren will revive the connection between humans and the wild. Maybe "personal devices" will become boring, declasse, and it will become fashionable to again venture up those precarious roads into the mountains, to shake hands, albeit briefly, with nature.