Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SteveReviews: Extinction – The Facts

This is something that I haven’t rushed to review simply because given the title of this David Attenborough special, I assumed it would be like preaching to the choir. After sitting down to watch Extinction: The Facts it is clear that my assumption was correct. Nothing contained within this hour special was especially new to me however I can see it being a stark wake-up call for members of the general public which may not be as in the know. Despite the fact that some would have found the programme depressing and upsetting, the reality is that those of us in working in conservation are fighting to reverse these trends every day.

Extinction: The Facts doesn’t pull any punches. I think some of issues that natural history documentaries such as Planet Earth perpetuate are the myths of untouched wildernesses and pristine habitats being widespread and commonplace in the natural world. However this is not the true representation of reality and whilst most will be familiar with spectacular portraits of nature, there isn’t a habitat on Earth that hasn’t been altered by the action of humankind. The program is painful to watch for a number of reasons such as the footage of dead or dying animals and the revelation that this is a situation we’re all responsible for.

I would have personally made this program a decade or so ago, when we had more time to act upon our targets. The Living Planet Report 2020 has shown that there has been a 68% average decline of birds, amphibians, mammals, fish, and reptiles since 1970. We’ve also failed as a planet to implement a number of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It feels to me that all of the international treaties and directives aimed at limiting our effects on the planet are just lip service, there are very few nations that are taking things seriously.

We’re altering the biosphere (the part of the Earth that sustains life) so the point that in the very near future threaten our very own existence. We’ve seen this year how our exploitation of the natural world can lead to the emergence of diseases such as COVID-19. This is just one of many global pandemics that will emerge as time goes on. Not only that but climate change will make some areas of the planet uninhabitable, increase violent weather occurrences and lead to more crops failing etc. It is a bleak future for all life on Earth as long as we carry on down this path, if we’re willing to act for purely selfish reasons, what hope does the natural world have?

Extinction is forever and once a species is gone, it’s gone. We could go all Jurassic Park but at this moment in time the technology needed to create viable populations using this method just don’t exist. Whilst extinction is a natural process, the artificially induced rapid rate is the issue. Depending on the taxonomic group, this is perhaps hundreds of times the normal evolutionary rate. Thinking of a few groups of animals that are most at risk of extinction within my lifetime include reef-building corals and amphibians. Habitat loss is the main driver of extinction across all life, with humankind clearing it to grow food for our growing populations or for our monumental quantities of livestock.

There is hope though, as long as we act now and protect the land that hasn’t already been converted for anthropogenic purposes. We also need to work together to help improve vast areas of habitat and connect them so they can fully utilised by wildlife. Although this programme was an eye-opener to the general public I feel like it was too short. I would have used this as an introductory episode to at least a three parter to explore the points made within in more detail. It’s likely that time and COVID-19 caused some restrictions however, so this is completely understandable.

If you haven’t seen it, go watch it and let me know what you think in the comments below.

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