Reflection: How We Can Save the Planet and Ourselves

The ongoing burning of the rainforests in Brazil under the newly elected president Jair Bolsonaro is an indication of the destructive power of a dictatorial leader. He is allowing thousands of hectares of rainforest to be cut down and burnt.

Toxic fumes engulf many Brazilian towns. He is changing the forest into grazing lands for beef production. It is disastrous, it adds to global warming as the rainforest absorbs huge amount of CO2. Billions of cattle raised for beef emit millions of tons of methane gas annually that contribute to global warming. It is a policy whereby the rich get richer and the indigenous people lose their ancestral forestlands.

Today, environmentalists and conservationists are fighting to preserve the planet’s ecosystems and reminding us that all life on earth and our lives depend on preserving the balance of nature in a healthy environment where the oceans, forests, plants, crops, insects, animals and all wild life can live and thrive in harmony in a sustainable way.

The latest UN report, the first in 15 years, predicts that up to a million plants and animals and fish are in danger of extinction in the next twenty or thirty years. It is happening by allowing deforestation and spewing plastic into the oceans and rivers. If the killing of the magnificent elephants for their ivory continues at the present pace, they will be practically extinct in fifty years time.

Twenty thousand elephants are being killed every year, that is 55 a day. This is shocking and avoidable. Some countries in Africa have strong protection measures, others do not. Some Asians want the elephant tusks carved into ivory ornaments and they pay high prices. Although the trade in ivory is now banned, China may circumvent it. Some very ignorant and deluded people with weak procreation ability think rhino horn has medicinal properties to aid their drooping and flagging sexual prowess. They are wrong, it is useless as a medicine.

The South African government won permission to open the rhino population to trophy hunting. It is “a kill them to save them” policy. It is all wrong. The Northern white rhino is now extinct, and if this policy continues then the Southern black will be extinct too. It is ignorance, quackery, and greed that cause mass extinction. Only about 5,000 black rhinos exist today, almost 2,000 of them in South Africa. At the turn of the century there were many thousands across the continent.

The UN report says one million species are at risk of extinction and humans are causing it. We have to change our life-style, stop eating beef, eat more fish and be more vegetarians. The fish too are endangered poisoned by the millions of tons of plastic dumped in the oceans. Despite this gloomy picture, there is hope to preserve the planet and wildlife. Brian O’Donnell, Director of the Wyss Campaign for Nature, said in a statement during the ongoing conference in Geneva that there is still time to halt the mass extinction. They are working with National Geographic to preserve 30% of the planet by 2030 called the “Global Deal for Nature”.

Another 100 groups of scientists and environmentalists working together have a plan to preserve half of the planet by 2050. It means that they will campaign and lobby for an end to the plundering of natural resources, massive extraction of minerals and deforestation. It is widespread in the Philippines and is destroying the ancestral lands of the indigenous people. They will promote massive planting of trees and the banning of plastics as much as they can.

The irresistible urge for capitalists to have endless economic growth and development is destroying the environment. The Rome Statement in 1972 on the “Limits to Growth” foresaw the present disaster of unlimited economic and population growth on a planet with finite resources. The warming of the planet is also causing the extinction of species. The development banks have funded coal-fired power plants, polluting industries and especially the plastic-based industries. A faster switch to renewal sources for electricity is the answer.

Electing people to government with a strong commitment to the environment is the only hope to change damaging policies and to save the planet together with the many actions and projects of the public. It is the healthy, chemical-free environment that will provide us humans with a sustainable planet and provide healthy organic food free of deadly pesticides and chemicals. (Fr. Shay Cullen)