The London Zoological Society’s Living Planet Index has released a report that states that in the last 40 years, “populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by an average of 52%.” This is shocking news. Given that it is very difficult to conduct a census on this scale, this is big news, even when you account for the possibility of statistical error or variation.
We are witnessing the sixth great extinction period, and we cannot predict the long-term consequences of massive biodiversity loss. The Earth is made up of interdependent systems, and it is difficult to know which links in the chain will make the entire biosphere unravel. We are living through frightening and intensely sad times.
Jo Confino, writing for the Guardian, published an article about the importance of grief in the face of such horrifying news. He believes that living through and acknowledging the pain that news like this brings is essential. It is essential both for our individual wellbeing, as well as our cultural wellbeing. He argues that taking time to grieve allows people to move through the pain and work to change our destructive economic system that has caused so much environmental havoc. He writes that, “Our decision to value above all else comfort, convenience and a superficial view of happiness, has led to feelings of disassociation and numbness and as a result we bury our grief deep within our subconscious.” The consequences of burying this grief are enormous, and lead to environmental destruction on the scale we are now witnessing. In order to push the pain away, we end up comforting ourselves with material goods, thereby putting more pressure on the world’s resources and worsening the problem.
He writes about the recent news from Living Planet Index: “We read this and perhaps shake our heads in dismay, and then consume the next news story. The question we should all be asking is why aren’t we on the floor doubled up in pain at our capacity for industrial scale genocide of the world’s species.”
I have been an environmentalist for a long time. I’m an Environmental Studies major, and it is true that sometimes the news can be unbearable. And it’s hard to say that the solution is to be on the floor doubled up in pain. But I think this may have to be part of the solution. Truly grieving for what we have done to our home will allow us to live with the pain instead of suppressing it. Living with the pain requires dealing with it in some way, and that will lead to action. Only when we suppress this grief will we read news articles about the death of 52% of the planet’s species and shake our heads, sigh, and move onto the next article. We cannot afford this response anymore.