“It’s easy to assume shocking figures of wildlife decline don’t apply here in Canada. Ours, after all, is a country of wide-open spaces with ample room for grizzlies and gannets, belugas and bass, salamanders and swift foxes.
Isn’t it?” - The World Wildlife Fund of Canada
The World Wildlife Fund of Canada (WWF) published the Living Planet Report Canada in 2017 illustrating that between 1970 and 2014 almost half of the species they monitored have declined. Moreover, the index showed that out of 903 monitored species, 451 had "an average decline of 83 per cent” (Miller) with mammals falling 43 per cent, grassland birds falling 69 per cent, reptiles and amphibians falling 34 per cent and fish falling 20 per cent. In my research, scientists consider this phenomenon a ‘catastrophe’ and ‘biological annihilation’, warning it could create a sixth mass extinction.
So why isn't this information plastered on the front page of the paper every day? Michael McCarthy, in his book Moth Snowstorm does an excellent job of explaining how a similar decline went mostly unnoticed by the public in England. Unlike the abrupt of extinction of the dinosaurs, what happened to the wildlife in England was much subtler: "It was a great thinning-out of all populations... there was simply less of everything, year on year: fewer birds, fewer wildflowers, fewer butterflies” (96). McCarthy reflects on how, within the span of his life, he witnessed this drastic decline. He recounts an anecdote from his childhood in the fifties, describing the sheer number of insects attracted to his parent's car headlights. “Like snowflakes in a blizzard, there would be a veritable snowstorm of moths, and at the end of your journey you would have to wash your windscreen, you would have to sponge away the astounding richness of life” (13). I often find stories like this helpful in understanding the magnitude of what the wildlife was like 60 years ago compared to what the state of it is today.
As shocking as the statistics of these losses are, they are also not surprising when you start to reflect on the changes that have been made to our landscape, our cities and our resource use over the past 50 years. WWF explains, “Scientists know that human action—from the conversion of grasslands or forests for agriculture, discharge of pollutants that contaminate habitat and food chains, or from the impacts of climate change that disrupt ecosystem function—is driving the decline." (46) Furthermore, the WWF broadly outlines the factors responsible for the wildlife loss as habitat loss (forestry, agriculture, urbanization), climate change, pollution (sewage effluent, agricultural runoff, plastic waste), unsustainable harvesting and invasive species.
When climate change is merely listed as just one of the factors causing a problem of this magnitude, you know it’s serious. Nevertheless, WWF explains the “most powerful solution to wildlife loss will rely on determining how human needs can be met without further overexploitation of species and degradation and destruction of their habitats”. (46) It requires all levels of government, industry and community to work together to enact positive change. Countless action items are proposed in the WWF document, and others, including climate change mitigation, increase of protected areas, sustainable development and the use of ecosystem economics (which is another article in itself). These are overwhelmingly large tasks, and I understand that many people may throw their hands up, feeling helpless at the enormity of the situation. However, there is one call to action in the report that, while still enormous, strikes a different chord: “make a commitment to nature” (51).
Even if the action items can reverse the decline of wildlife, “these solutions are far more likely to be realized with broad public support for difficult resource allocation and land-use decisions that have a goal of benefitting nature at their core” (51). Essentially, this is a cart before the horse situation, the public has to want to solve these problems and has to prioritize nature, at times, above their own self-interests.
People will make a commitment to nature if it is important to them on a personal level—we need to rekindle people’s love for nature. As McCarthy explains, “No one is going to stir the soul with sustainable development, no one is going to write poems about it, any more than they are going to write poems about [ecosystem economics]. These may be vitally necessary but are mere intellectual constructs; they can fill the minds of policymakers, but they cannot reach the hearts of people” (245).
Humans have an innate love for nature. There is proof of this threaded throughout our society: whether it's the subject of art we hang on the wall, where we choose to live (close to rivers or parks), what we want to watch on TV or when we capture the perfect Instagram photo. We are all fascinated by nature and for a good reason. We now just have to find a way to uncover this love in all of us, and stop treating nature as a luxury and instead, start channelling that energy into positive change. Lesley Marian Neilson, the spokesperson for the Nature Conservancy of Canada, said, "There's a saying — 'People will protect what they love, and love what they know.' If they know nature and love it, they'll protect it. There's a chain effect."