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Say Goodbye to the Northern White Rhino

Posted on 16th December 2014

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This story from the BBC is very sad. One of the Northern White Rhinos at the San Diego Zoo has died, leaving only five alive in the whole world (one more in the San Diego Zoo, one in a zoo in the Czech Republic and three in a Kenyan wildlife reserve). Attempts to breed them in captivity failed, although now it is reported that in vitro fertilisation will be tried to keep the species from extinction.

My attitude to species extinction may seem harsh to some readers. I consider it to be a crime, more serious than genocide against ethnic groups of humans. Who is responsible for this crime? We (the human race) are responsible, through over-hunting, habitat loss, pesticides and other pollution, and the introduction of alien species (species from other parts of the world). We have already been responsible for the extinction of thousands of species (see this page for lists of extinct species). The rate of species loss seems to be increasing, and we can expect that many of the species currently endangered (I counted 20118) will also become extinct over the next few decades.

Of course it is easy to state the obvious fact that humans are responsible for the vast majority of extinctions, but who will hold us accountable, and how? We can't even catch, try and convict war criminals, for which there are at least international treaties (what people call "international law") and international courts. In the environmental arena we have no legal or pseudo-legal framework, and thus no consequences. Also, the size of the groups of environmental criminals are huge (pretty much every one of us), and it is not practical to prosecute the whole human population of the planet.

I am not obsessed with blame and punishment, but I am interested in there being a process of answerability as an incentive for people to behave and live more environmentally responsibly, but what we actually are left with is that our ancestors will pay for our crimes, by being forced to live in an impoverished environment, with vastly reduced choices of diet and limited opportunity to enjoy the natural world. Soylent Green, here we come (maybe not a great movie, but looking like an accurate prediction of our future). Is that the life that you want for your grandchildren?