Tick tock, tick tock…….BOOOOOM?

As we hurtle headlong towards the 7 billion mark and beyond, I find it alarming that in most environmental conversations (be it about fracking, climate change, saving the last 10 snow leopards or helping endangered toads cross our suburban roads) very few people mention our frightening capacity to breed and the fact that this has to be addressed. Pronto.

We all seem to tiptoe around the issue or struggle to make connections. But why? Why is it such a sensitive one and why are so many in complete denial? What on earth am I missing? The right to make more of ourselves seems to be so very ‘sacred’ to us as humans…and yet, we are actually behaving like a rather dim-witted bird – breeding ourselves out of our very own nest. And taking every other species with us.

Some jaded ecologists/conservationists (and I am sometimes in this camp when walking around a crowded shopping mall or watching housing estates pop up like bread mould) have come to the somewhat gloomy conclusion that there are simply far too many humans for there to be any chance of slowing down the rate of habitat destruction and the inevitable loss of species diversity.

We have thrown out a gigantic spinning top – in climate change – and we are all sitting around (on our hands) watching, waiting…. to see how it all ends up. This climatic speed wobble combined with swelling populations of increasingly poor, hopeless people will most likely (ultimately) issue forth a tidal wave of war over water, food and land.

And yet we keep on bringing more babies on board. Watch the population clock on the home page of the Population Institute’s website. Blink and you’ll miss another 10 babies taking their first breath. It’s horrifying.

The Population Institute recently released a report. It warns that our children, and our children’s children ‘are inheriting a world in which arable land and water are in increasingly short supply, food and fuel prices are steadily increasing, rivers and lakes are shrinking, water levels are falling, temperatures are rising, drought and flooding are intensifying, biodiversity is declining, the number of failing states is expanding, and the very future of ocean habitats is threatened.’

Once again though – there IS something that we can do. I found a lovely link to a comic done by Grist on the Population Institute’s website. It says it all. And cleverly.

I particularly like the WHAT YOU CAN DO list at the end. Number 5 is especially pertinent.

It really is about time we start talking. Loudly. We simply cannot keep producing more humans and adding to the bomb that is ticking louder every day. If we do….we face a very, very bleak future indeed.

Grist, the popular on-line environmental magazine, has found a fun and informative way to break down what 7 billion really means without being overly simplistic. “7 Billion, Unpacked—A Comic” does a masterful job of laying out why the 7 billion milestone is important and what needs to be done. By focusing on both the population growth expected in the developing world and the much larger impact of population growth in the developed world, the Grist comic talks about population and consumption in a balanced and insightful way.

While recognizing the challenge posed by population growth, it focuses primarily on the successes of the past and the benefits of continuing to expand family planning options for women. It notes that fertility rates fell from 5 children per woman in 1950 to 2.5 per woman today because of the smart investments that were made in girls’ education, family planning, reproductive health care, and the economic empowerment of women.

Best of all, the comic tells the reader what he or she can do:

1. Push your leaders to support family planning and abroad. (You can start by signing our Million for a Billion petition to tell Congress and world leaders to boost support for international family planning.)

2. Be conscientious in deciding how many kids to have—no decision you’ll ever make has larger environmental implications. Anyone who has more than 2 or 3 is just blatantly irresponsible. Sorry. (my bit in bold)

3. Don’t pressure other people to have kids (or to have two….’so that you don’t have that ‘only child issue’). Give everyone the space to decide what is right for them.

4. Push for better sex education in schools, and be frank with teens about sex and birth control.

5. Don’t be afraid to talk about population. It’s time to bust through that taboo. (One place to do that is Population 7 Billion, It’s Time to Talk.)

So check out the great comic and then take action!

Extract from the Population Institute’s website and link to comic: http://www.grist.org/population/2011-10-24-population-7-billion-unpacked-a-comic

Sky pirates

My son has developed a very healthy obsession with raptors and falconry. His latest ‘favourite bird’ is the Black Sparrowhawk. He draws Black Sparrowhawks all the time… sitting on nests, dive-bombing doves, flying about with cheeky comments/speech bubbles about what they see below… and being held high on the glove of a burly falconer (himself as a grown-up, no doubt).

We are always on the lookout for raptors as we drive around Noordhoek and often he will be the first to yell ‘RAPTOR!’ and I will have to screech to a halt as we both strain to look skywards to ID the unmistakable speck in the sky.

So it was disquieting to read an article in the latest Africa Birds and Birding magazine about the increase in ‘piracy’ displayed by crows and the effect that this could potentially have on raptors.

Over the years I have noticed an alarming increase in the pied crow population in Noordhoek. The other day there was an almost apocalyptic profusion of them – swarming and cawing in the grey/yellow sky above.

The authors of this article (friends of mine who live locally) speak of incidents of direct predation by crows from raptor nests (a Black-shouldered Kite nestling). It is not only the smaller raptors coming under attack from these Pirates of the Sky….other prey-carrying raptors such as Black Harriers, Marsh Harriers and Fish Eagles are seen getting bombarded by these opportunistic monsters.

Further north in Tanzania, one researcher has observed a sharp increase in the crow population and has noted how Verreux’s Eagle Owls have stopped breeding (in one particular area) as a result of the harassment dished out by crows. In Kenya, a raptor specialist watched a month-old Martial Eagle nestling getting its eyes poked out by – could it be a coven (?) – of pied crows. On our doorstep, our highly threatened vultures in the Drakensburg are battling with these aerial terrorists – particularly around the ‘vulture restaurants’.

I am watching this one play out with great interest – could this be yet another subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) shift upon the chess board of biodiversity? Could this be climate change related? Or is it just because we continue to breed ourselves silly and our sprawling suburban (and highly compromised) habitats are just attracting more and more of these birds who are game for all the easy pickings we provide? Who knows?

I did this sketch many many years back. It is of a Long-crested Eagle. As with so many wild creatures….it’s all in the eyes.

Better to be an ostrich..

Every now and again I haul my weary head out of the sand and tune into the ‘environmental’ noise above ground.

I do so very reluctantly as I know that when I really tap into the reality of what we are doing to our beautiful planet, I will end up having to dig my heels in very deep to make sure I don’t get sucked into that bottomless murky chasm that leaves me feeling bleak and ever so hopeless.

I popped my head out and shook the sand off recently.

A local shark attack has led to the inevitable slew of letters to the press filled with insane suggestions on how we have to make our seas ‘safer’ for swimmers and surfers. Tired, worn out arguments roll around and flop about on the letter’s page and on Facebook and I am left feeling so deeply saddened.

NO thanks to Mr Bright-Spark Cohen. He who chose to arrogantly ignore all the perfectly clear warning flags and sirens and entered the sea (devoid of all other sensible, intelligent humanity) regardless, head held high.
One singularly conceited decision to ‘go for a swim anyway’ could well toss yet another species closer to the edge of extinction.

In the eyes of your average Joe Bloggs FishHoek resident, it is now all about Sharks VS Humans…
The voices of intelligent ecological reason are drowned out in the cacophony of mindless ranting around introducing shark nets and hunting down ‘serial killer rogue sharks’…

And then there are the snippets in the press about our forthcoming COP17. Climate change talks about talks about ….well, talking again in a few years’ time…Plump hotel bills and many flights and big important suits drinking coffee and talking and negotiating. And a representative COP Minister who has a little temper tantrum about a handbag search and decides to hop on her own special jet to get home.

Bugger the CO2 emissions. Sorry for you polar bears!

And then the rhinos. The poor bloody rhinos. And another one down…and another one down and another Mum bites the dust….while her little one scurries about, blinded with fear and panic, panga slashes across her crumpled face.

I can no longer look at the images of bloated stiff-legged beasts with bloodied noses. More than 300 down in one year. How CAN we let this happen? How can we?

And then I read a book written by a young man who travelled to Kenya in the mid-60s to work with George Adamson, the lion man. In the space of a decade he watched as their insanely robust elephant and rhino populations were obliterated.

Now you see me, now you don’t.

And then I hear from someone who works with hotshot corporate types that he recently overheard an important Executive /champion of industry type say “We can’t see dinosaurs anymore, so why should I worry if my son never gets to see an elephant?”

And then my son gives a little presentation at his school about climate change and the one 7-year-old child starts to boo halfway through. He doesn’t believe in climate change. It is all rubbish. In the same breath, he says….WWF is all rubbish.

They start them young, these denialists. God alone knows what the parents are telling them over dinner at home.

SO….every now and again it’s good to clamber out of the quagmire and escape into the wilderness and pretend it’s not happening.

Last Thursday we did just that. We turned our backs on every bit of this madness and headed to the Kouebokkeveld mountains with a tent and our camping gear.

We spent a day exploring a beautiful mountain stream with glorious drinkable water that frolicked and chortled about the craggy Cedarberg rocks and was home to pointy-nosed frogs and fish and happy wagtails. We sat and watched a pair of Karoo prinia buzzing and flitting around a restios and disappearing within. Just spending the time sitting and watching the pattern of their movement led us to investigate. On closer inspection, we found a perfect little nest tucked deep inside the reeds, lined with soft fluff and holding two demanding little chicks.

We came across a bat-eared fox while out walking, sat in our camp watching robin chats hop right up to us and sat silently as bright-eyed striped mice came up to nibble crumbs around our feet…
We heard and saw a Freckled nightjar against a purple sky and watched a plump moon skim the ragged mountains above our tent.

And then we came home.