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'If you love wildlife, stop eating all its food' Camilla Cavendish in The Times

'If you love wildlife, stop eating all its food' Camilla Cavendish in The Times

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Published by rob yorke
We have no connection between our lifestyle & the environment. Consumption, not population is the problem.
Discuss - easy! Change? V hard!

Uploaded via @blackgull
We have no connection between our lifestyle & the environment. Consumption, not population is the problem.
Discuss - easy! Change? V hard!

Uploaded via @blackgull

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Published by: rob yorke on Jan 26, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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01/26/2013

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If you love wildlife, stop eating all its food
 January 24 2013David Attenborough calls humans a plague. But it’s consumption, not population, that’sspiralling out of controlThat nice, mild-mannered David Attenborough has called humans a “plague on Earth”.Good for him. Strong language from a national treasure is the only way to shake us out of our apparent determination not to think about our responsibility for the devastation thathe so tirelessly catalogues in his films.So far, the response has been that Sir David is wrong to be concerned about population, because new technologies can feed the world. This is a little optimistic, given that one billion people already go hungry and that we are about to add two billion more. When Ilived in Bangladesh 20 years ago, people were eking out an existence on land that climatechange is now making increasingly marginal. Since then human ingenuity has brought usdrought-resistant and flood-resistant GM crops. But it has not yet brought strains that cancope with weather that will flip increasingly between extremes.The response also seems to assume that only humans matter: that we should not worry aslong as we can feed the newcomers without completely wrecking ecosystems on whichwe depend. I find that sad and foolhardy, since we don’t know enough about howecosystems interact.It’s important to realise, though, that while Sir David is right about the strains that humannumbers place on the Earth, the population bomb is already being defused. The averagenumber of children per couple has fallen dramatically, from 5.6 in the 1970s to 2.4 today.The overall numbers are still growing, because as a result of medical advances morechildren are living long enough to have their own kids. But the world population isexpected to peak in 2050, at nine billion. The education of women has brought almostevery country much closer to the natural replacement rate.As countries get richer, they have fewer children. That’s good. But rich people consumemore resources than poor ones. That’s a problem. If we want to avoid the annihilation of other species on the planet, we must drastically change the way we consume theresources on which they, and we in turn, rely.I have always found it extraordinary that people who avidly watch nature programmes ontheir HD screens, their takeaway dinner on their tropical hardwood coffee table in frontof them, seem to make no connection between these films and their lives. We shed tearsfor the baby elephant or monkey whose parent must forage farther and farther for food
 
 because of mankind’s overwhelming need to feed himself. We watch their last momentsin sorrowful reverence.But as soon as we switch off we lose that connection. We trot to the shops and buy soap,ice cream and margarine containing palm oil, whose cultivation has led to the widespreaddestruction of the rainforests where the monkeys live. We buy fish that has been trawledto the verge of extinction, leave it in the fridge and forget to eat it. We leave a third of theworld’s food unharvested. We are utterly cavalier with the natural world, which viewingfigures would suggest we care about.Worse, it’s not even under discussion. In the past three years the science has hardened inways that should have led to huge concern. Animal species are becoming extinct ahundred times faster than fossils record; we have lost a third of known vertebrates sincethe 1970s. Oceans are warming faster than predicted. Fresh water supplies, which arevital to food production, are under strain. In North China, in India, in the high plains of  North America, humans are extracting water faster than nature can replenish it.Yet the more alarming the science becomes, the deeper the silence grows. It’s as if this isall old news, stuff we’ve already internalised, stuff that is best left to a heroic old manroaming the last desolate wildernesses on Earth with a throaty intonation and a BBCcamera crew.This national shrug is partly a consequence of powerlessness in the face of suchoverwhelming problems. And it is partly an assumption that technology will bringsolutions. Mankind has been remarkably clever about inventing substitutes for naturalresources, or finding new reserves of them. Nylon replaces cotton; palladium replaces platinum. The “peak oil” thesis has been blown out of the water by new techniques of  processing shale gas and oil. Until recently there were concerns that phosphate, a vitalingredient in fertiliser, would run out in 30 years. Now, it turns out that the WesternSahara is a veritable ocean of phosphate.Yet new reserves are usually more costly to extract than the old ones. Take copper, whichis used in almost every electronic product and in the wires in your home. Copper oregrades have declined twentyfold since the 1850s, increasing the amount of energy andwater needed to mine and refine the metal — as does mining it from ever more remotelocations, such as the middle of the Pacific. And processes that suck up water lead toconflicts over water: go to Chile’s Atacama desert and see the fields stricken withdrought because water is being diverted to the copper mines. Europeans who think theyhave reduced their impact on the environment rarely see the consequences of their  purchasing power on other countries.Whenever he is tested, mankind becomes more efficient. Our computers, our cars, our  packaging use far less energy and raw materials than a decade ago. The problem is thatwe can’t stop ourselves wanting more: the second car, the extra laptop, the latest model,the richer diet. We prefer to buy the cheap washing machine that consumes more energyand breaks down quickly, than the one that will not need replacing. We have to get back to an older concept of value: one of longevity and efficiency. We have to price products

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