The unspoken news story of our species.
You have probably never heard of it, although it’s been in existence for a quarter-century. The Convention on Biological Diversity is a multilateral treaty that focuses efforts on a collective, worldwide response to halt the decimation of species. Each nation state has signed up to specific targets on conserving biodiversity, using ecosystem services sustainably, and sharing the benefits that arise more equitably. Participating states have agreed to follow the principle of ‘inspect what you expect’, with each required to issue national reports on a regular basis that assess the measures they have undertaken and evaluate their effectiveness.
In the U.K., the Joint Nature Conservation Committee worked throughout last year to collate the latest evidence, and published its findings earlier this month. In sum, the U.K. is on target to miss its targets, with insufficient progress in 14 of the 19 specified areas. In some areas, we are simply getting worse more slowly – which is little more than a Pyrrhic victory. Perhaps this is not a surprise, as the political turmoil of Brexit has sucked all the potential life-giving oxygen out of the room. Even before addressing the actual flaws of Brexit, its effect in distracting people’s attention and draining their energy is a crisis in itself.
And yet it’s too easy to blame this existential national debate for the fact that we have stopped noticing the world around us. Every nation state has its own form of Brexit crisis, although thankfully not every nation is paralysed to the same degree. Sovereign states never stop searching their soul for better ways to unite their people: it is their raison d'être. This long view was well understood by Chinese premier Zhou Enlai who, when asked by Henry Kissinger about the impact of the French Revolution, replied that it was too early to tell.
Nation building takes forever, and so we cannot put the task of regenerating nature on hold while we focus on strengthening our nations. Besides the fact there is no finish line, these two tasks are interdependent and not mutually exclusive. And yet national politics does not lend itself naturally to the task of protecting our species, unless citizens make it their priority.
Earth Day is the largest secular observance in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year on April 22. Its purpose is firstly to promote understanding of important environmental issues so that more people are aware of the critical actions we need to take, and secondly for people take action. The theme of this year’s campaign is to ‘protect our species’ in recognition that we have irrevocably upset the balance of nature.
Our goals of Earth Day 2019 range from the individual to the far-reaching, as the movement aims to raise awareness of the accelerating rate of extinction of millions of species and its consequences for all of us; protect broad groups of species from further rapid decline; encourage choices such as more plant-based diets and discourage actions such as the continued overuse of herbicides and pesticides.
The real news story is about what we should be doing to pass things on, and not the headlines about what we are leaving.