By Jim Poling Sr.
“All the rainbows in the sky
Start to weep, then say goodbye
You won’t be seeing rainbows any more …”
I was listening to those lyrics when I opened a newspaper to a shocking new United Nations report on the state of nature. The lyrics are from Roy Orbison’s 1964 rock ballad ‘It’s Over.’
When I finished reading the UN report I feared Orbison was right – it is over. We are well on the way to having destroyed our planet.
I admit that listening to Orbison can cause someone to view the world darkly. His music often was dark, sad and lonely, much like the singer himself.
Orbison had reason to be sad. His first wife, whom he divorced because of her infidelity then remarried her, died in a motorcycle accident. A couple of years later two of his sons died in a house fire.
For all his troubles, Orbison did not have to worry about pollution and climate change destroying the world. They were not big issues back then.
They are now and the just-released UN report – Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 – says that in the past 10 years the world has not fully met a single target to slow the destruction of wildlife and life-sustaining ecosystems.
Twenty targets to reduce pressures on our natural world were agreed to by 193 countries meeting in Japan in 2010 for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Despite some progress, says the report, a large number of species are threatened, natural habitats continue to disappear and governments still offer hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies that allow environmental damage.
Also, the Living Planet Report 2020, produced by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London, reported that earth’s wildlife populations have declined dramatically because of human overconsumption.
There was an average 68 per cent decrease in mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish populations between 1970 and 2016, said the report.
It adds that nature is declining at a rate unprecedented in millions of years. Deforestation and conversion of wild lands for agriculture were cited as two main reasons.
“The way we produce and consume food and energy, and the blatant disregard for the environment entrenched in our current economic model, has pushed the natural world to its limits,” Marco Lambertini, WWF director general, writes in the foreword to the report.
All this has led to humanity at a crossroads, says Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the UN’s biodiversity head. It’s a crossroads that will decide how future generations experience nature.
“Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised,” she says. “And the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being, security and prosperity.”
What is needed urgently, says the Living Planet report, is a deep cultural and systemic shift to a society and economic system that stop taking nature for granted and “recognises that we depend on nature more than nature depends on us.”
The countries signed on to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity are supposed to meet next May in China to finalize targets for the current decade.
The meetings continue, the targets get set and the reports flow, but little changes.
Real progress is hampered by the bureaucratic blob that feeds off slow-moving governments and institutions like the UN.
The changes needed are to our lifestyles and they won’t come about quickly through government and its bureaucracies. They will happen if people passionately want them to happen and begin taking individual actions that lead to group action.
Margaret Mead, the American cultural anthropologist prominent in the 1960s-70s, had that figured out long ago.
“Never ever depend on governments or institutions to solve any major problems,” she said. “All social change comes from the passion of individuals.”
The recent reports are depressing enough to put Orbison’s ‘It’s Over’ on replay.
However, another report, released this month by Newcastle University and BirdLife International, says 28 bird and mammal extinctions have been prevented by conservation efforts in the last 27 years.
Hopefully Margaret Mead’s faith in individual passion will be proven out and more extinctions will be prevented as people decide it is time to become stewards of nature, instead of simple users.