With that short clip from “Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers, the time has come for many things: for peace, for climate action, for economic sanity, the list is long. Radio Ecoshock 151007.
This week on Radio Ecoshock we thunder into another place humans don’t like to go. The nasty truth is we are killing off “the only known living companions we have in the universe”, as our first guest says. The venerable biologist and head of the Stanford Center for Biodiversity Paul Ehrlich joins us. He’s followed by Will Tuttle, author of “The World Peace Diet”. Will says you can’t care about climate change and still eat meat, because about half of all global emissions are driven by the industrial slaughter of our fellow species. That hidden holocaust of animals is also eating into our minds, twisting itself back out as illness and violence.
Too much information? Don’t worry, be happy with this week’s “Climate Variety Hour… In just ten minutes.” Get inspired with Bernie Sanders, climate humor from UK’s Guardian newspaper, and bits from climate songs by people who can actually sing.
I’m Alex Smith. Welcome to Radio Ecoshock.
Or listen on Soundcloud right now!
DR. PAUL EHRLICH – ANNIHILATION OF WILD ANIMALS AND BIRDS
I always consider it an honor to have a chance to chat with Paul Ehrlich. There’s a lot of wisdom stuffed in this interview – so I’ve transcribed some of the best quotes for this week’s Radio Ecoshock blog.
By the way, here is an excellent graphic showing the relationship in animal biomass between wild animals, humans, and our domesticated animals comparing 10,000 years ago to present day.
KEY NOTES AND QUOTES FROM THIS PAUL EHRLICH INTERVIEW
Among stories of Middle East refugees and stock market jitters, we find brief notices that species are disappearing rapidly all over the world. In a scientific journal and a new book, famed scientists Paul and Anne Ehrlich warn that humans are driving the sixth great mass extinction here on Earth. Just released in September, their new book is titled “The Annihilation of Nature – Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals“.
As an author and co-author of more than 40 books, Paul R. Ehrlich is the Bing Professor of Population Studies and the President of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University.
Dr. Paul R. Ehrlich
Paul, welcome back to Radio Ecoshock (this is our third interview for the program).
ALEX: Your book title uses the word “annihilation”. Is that just sensational, or do you mean it?
Ehrlich really means it. We are losing “the only known living companions we have in the entire universe.”
“Scientists are very scared about this, particularly because people don’t really understand the threat.“
ALEX: How do we know these extinctions are being driven by humans, rather than being part of a natural cycle so often found in Earth’s long history?
For the scientific paper behind the book, the Erhlichs and their co-author studied past extinction events, and then compared “very conservative” estimates of the number of species that went extinct over the past few hundred years. That was cross-checked with the best estimates of extinctions that have occurred BETWEEN mass extinction events, to determine the “natural” loss of species as evolution continues. The extinctions caused by humans are far higher than that number.
“Looking at both ends of the story, it turns out the extinction rate today is already 10 to 100 or more times the background rate. Which shows we are starting into a vast new extinction, and it’s clearly being caused by human beings.“
ALEX: Paul Ehrlich, how does this book relate to the scientific study on extinction you, Anne and Gerardo Ceballos published in June of this year, in the journal “Science Advances”.
The book explains more for lay people, and also appeals to our emotions, because so many people are “now isolated in cities and don’t know much about what goes on in the natural world – don’t know where their food comes from for example.” Ehrlich gives the example of a serious loss of pollnators like bees and moths, which are necessary to so many of our crops.
Paul also draws our attention to the biological difference between “extinction” and loss of specific populations. For example, is we lost the honey bee population in North America, that would cost at least $18 billion dollars in crop losses, and lower our nutrition. But honey bees may still exist somewhere else, so they are not technically extinct, even if they disappear on one continent.
The idea of population loss is key, even more than extinction, he says. What difference does it make if there are a few bees in a jungle somewhere, if there are no bees near developed civilization where we need them so badly?
Species go extinct in a process of losing populations in certain regions. When the last population goes, then that animal, plant, or bug is officially extinct. The process can be as painful as the final act.
ALEX: In a review of your new book in the Los Angeles Times, Fred Pearce says there have been “only” 800 extinctions registered in the last 400 years. He thinks you are being too emotional about all this. What do you say?
Pearce, says Ehrlich, is not a biologist or even a scientist. He makes large mistakes: for example Pearce has written that the gross and growing population of humans on this planet is not a problem. The only problem is per capita consumption.
ALEX: Pearce says Earth dominated by humans is the “new normal” in the anthropocene. Animals learn to adapt near cities, and even in cities. Paul, we know there are climate deniers. Are there also extinction deniers?
Paul says there are people who cannot face the overall existential challenges we face in not just climate change, but loss of biodiversity, toxic products, waste and more. Scientists “have been very forthcoming” about these risks we face – and yet the recent U.S. Presidential candidate debates do not even mention any of these serious problems.
ALEX: I thought birds would be the great survivors, since they can move away from threats and toward better living zones. But your team writes they are in trouble. Why is that?
Bird can move – but the places they can move to are being destroyed by humans, Ehrlich says. Also, their “refuelling stations” for tropical migrant birds have been cut down for our buildings, roads and so on. Like all animals, some birds are much more resilient than others.
All of this “is part of a huge nexus of problems that everybody should be educated about, but which unfortunately, most of our politicians are not.”
ALEX: It’s interesting that the animals most like us, carnivore hunters, are becoming extinct first and foremost. Tell us about some of the great creatures in jeapardy, and their chances for survival.
Paul tells us about the struggles of the lion. Their populations are falling rapidly. They used to extend all the way to India from Africa, but now, except for a very few in India, the lion is confined to Africa. Amazingly, one problem is lions are suffering from distemper from contacts with domestic dogs. The lion is still being hunted, and sadly even their bones are now a highly prized feature in Chinese medicine.
The Black Rhino is so endangered in South Africa they are being shipped to Botswana, which has the best record of protecting endangered animals. Again, the horns of Black Rhinos are poached because they are thought to be aphrodesiacs in Chinese medicine, or to add male power when made into daggers in the Middle East.
“We thought Viagra might save the Rhino, because Viagra actually works. But it turns out now the dealers are grinding Viagra into the Rhino horn, so that the Rhino horn really works.”
The Ehrlichs write that some of the great cats will live on, because they reproduce well in captivity. It will be a strange world if nature’s ark of characters is preserved only in zoos.
ALEX: Here in Canada, we just had a hockey player charged for taking macho pictures of himself with a grizzly bear he illegally slaughtered. In America, there’s the dentist who shot Cecil the lion. Is this partly just a testosterone problem?
Yes, Paul replies, but we have to remember that as sad and as crazy as sport hunting is – that is a minor factor compared to destruction of habitat and the poaching for supposed medical products. The trade in elephant ivory continues as well, with incredible numbers of elephants killed for their horns.
Ehrlich also raises the example of the scaly ant-eater (Pangolin). There are 13 species of them being killed and endangered all over the world because their scales are used in Chinese medicine. The Pangolins are also hunted for food, being considered a delicacy in parts of China.
The Pangolin endangered – hunted for “medicine”.
The only hunting that really threatens species is when poor people hunt wild species for food, called “bush meat”. As long as there is poverty and hunger, the local animals will be under threat.
ALEX: In the developed world, we may not slaughter species directly, we just steal habitat that was their home – for resources, new shopping malls and suburbs. Why isn’t there a plan to save the species, or is there?
Some countries pay more attention to conservation. “Botswana is way ahead of the United States in conservation. Mexico is way ahead of the United States in conservation.” “Most people don’t know we are entering a great extinction crisis that could end our civilization, and that’s sad, and that’s why I’m raving at you on the radio.”
CLIMATE CHANGE AND EXTINCTION
EHRLICH: “Several things are missing from the media. For example, have you heard anyone point out the more people there are, the greater the climate change is going to be, because each person contributes greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The climate-population connection has not been made. The population-extinction connection has not been made. And the connection between climate change and extinction.“
Ehrlich gives the example of the forests in Western North America being changed dramatically by drought and new fire regimes which are pumped up by climate change. These kind of rapid changes affect many species severely.
SAVING ANIMAL DNA TO BRING THEM BACK LATER
ALEX: Do you think it’s possible that DNA from disappearing species could be saved, to bring them back later in a more ecologically sane world? Is such a project in the works?
“There are some people trying to do that but it’s actually a total waste of time. It’s so much easier to save the habitat while it still exists, and save the organisms while they still exist. The so-called ‘de-extinction’ movement is basically make-work for idiots.” Jurassic Park, Paul says, was a great movie “but scientifically nonsense.” Trying to save DNA is actually “a huge threat because it makes people who are ignorant of science believe that they don’t have to worry because all we have to do is to put the several billion populations we have on the planet, that are genetically different, in freezers and everything will be fine.“
GETTING THROUGH THE MEDIA
ALEX: We’ve just received a new study, partly led by the World Wildlife Fund, saying half the fish in the sea have disappeared since you and I were born. It’s just another brief headline, competing with Hollywood news and a fixation with the stock market. How can giant and dangerous trends, like the annihilation of the animals, get past the everyday roar of
“For you and for me, if we knew how, we’d sure as Hell do it.” Ehrlich once suggested to Ben Bradley that the Washington Post “put in every day the numbers of how much CO2 there was in the atmosphere, how big the human population was, how many people were starving and so on. And he told me ‘No, we don’t want to have numbers in the newspaper. Nobody likes numbers.’ And I said ‘Have you ever looked at the sports or the financial pages?’… Then he told me that he wanted his science reporters to be utterly ignorant of science so they could be unbiased. And I said “Do you hire sports reporters who don’t know what a strike and a ball
is?’ The media has serious, serious problems as I think you know.“
ALEX: There are a lot of gorgeous photographs in your new book “The Annihilation of Nature”. How were they selected, and why are they there?
“The whole idea is to make people know what we are losing. Most people don’t pay attention. And so we selected what we thought were a lot of attractive and interesting animals.”
ALEX: A lof of people, if they see your book, may worry for a short time, which doesn’t solve much. What are the steps needed to save the species remaining, and what agencies need to take leadership in this?
“The most basic step, as we’ve published many times, is to reduce the scale of the human enterprise. There are many too many people and they are consuming much too much, many of them, while there are too many of them that don’t have enough to eat, so they don’t consume enough.” Ehrlich says we have to tackle the notion that we can grow forever, in what he calls our “faith-based economic system, which says on a finite problem we can continue to grow forever and not worry about anything.”
ALEX: Paul Ehrlich, you don’t have a reputation for looking on the bright side of things. Is there any hope for Earth’s threatened animal life, or do we just shrug it off and move on, until the specter of extinction finally arrives at the door of humanity itself?
He used to say “I am very pessimistic about where we are going, but very optimistic about where we could go. I now would say ‘I’m still very optimistic about where we could go, if we chose to do so, but my pessimism has increased by such things as having political debates in which the critical existential issues are not even discussed.”
WHAT DO WE TELL THE KIDS?
ALEX: Do we hide this fear of annihilation from school children? What do we tell the kids?
“It’s going to be in their laps. We are leaving them a world that is in tough shape, and part of their job is going to be to have to help dig us out of it.” Paul believes children can be a big force for conservation. He gives the example of when the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred off Alaska, the kids of the Exxon executives pressured their parents a lot.
ALEX: Paul, is there anything I’ve missed, that you would like to leave with our listeners?
Essentially Ehrlich says don’t take his word for the seriousness of the extinction crisis. Do your own research, see what the scientific community is saying, and then figure out what you can do to help.
“I think every functional human being, who is rich enough not to have to worry about where his or her food is coming from, should be putting something like ten percent of their time into one of the many places in which people can act.“
He recommends: go to mahb.stanford.edu – become a “mahbster” and help save the world.
We’ve been talking about disappearing nature with the renowned ecologist Paul R. Ehrlich. With the Mexican ecologist Gerardo Ceballos, Paul and Anne Ehrlich have just released their new book “The Annihilation of Nature – Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals” from John Hopkins University Press.
WILL TUTTLE – THE MASS MURDER OF ANIMALS
It’s not too hard to get sympathy for the awful killing of iconic animals in the wild. Everybody loves the elephants, lions and tigers. It’s a lot harder to get anyone to listen to the awful truth about our treatment of the animals who tolerate humans the most: the gentle cows, intelligent pigs, and docile chickens. In the United States alone, 75 million animals are killed every day for the meat diet that is scientifically documented to make people sick and fat. Two out of every three Americans are overweight or obese. It’s an epidemic.
Many of our listeners know climate change is real, and not a good thing. Yet we try not to know that at least half of all greenhouse gas emissions come not from cars or factories, but from the far-flung empire of animal agriculture. Don’t believe it? Get ready for the man who blows up the lies behind what we eat.
What is at the root of our violence toward nature, our indifference to changing the climate, and our murderous relationship with all other species? Will Tuttle says he knows.
Actually, that’s Dr. Will Tuttle. His PhD comes from the University of California, Berkeley, in the philosophy of education. Tuttle is a blazing speaker at conferences organized by vegetarians, animal rights activists, and progressive spiritualists. He also helps organize events like the online Veganpalooza in 2012. Find his personal web site here.
Dr. Will Tuttle
Will’s book “The World Peace Diet” was number one on Amazon in 2010, has been translated into at least 18 languages, and continues to sell well around the world.
A listener suggested Will Tuttle for Radio Ecoshock. I had my doubts – until I listened to a couple of his You tube presentations. He is on to something big.
In this Radio Ecoshock interview, Will Tuttle quotes the figure of 51% of climate change emissions driven by animal agriculture. He cites a study by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang. The title is “Livestock and Climate Change“.
That report says:
“Livestock are already well-known to contribute to GHG emissions. Livestock’s Long Shadow, the widely-cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), estimates that 7,516 million metric tons per year of CO2 equivalents (CO2e), or 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions, are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs, and poultry.
That amount would easily qualify livestock for a hard look indeed in the search for ways to address climate change. But our analysis
shows that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.“
– Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang “Livestock and Climate Change”
ONE MORE RELATED ANIMAL CRUELTY NOTE: “THE LAST PIG”
After “Cowspiracy” it’s time for groundbreaking animal rights documentary, which just launched its crowdfunding campaign. Listen to my interview with Kip Anderson, producer of Cowspiracy on Soundcloud here.
Gary Smith of the socially conscious company Evolotus PR writes me:
“Last year, most of us heard of Bob Comis, the pig farmer in upstate New York who had a change of heart about raising animals for food. For more than ten years, Bob was successful, yet he was haunted by the ghosts of thousands of pigs he’d slaughtered. “The Last Pig” follows Bob’s final year as a pig farmer, including his struggles with their looming deaths, his search for sanctuaries that would take in his pigs, and his courage in starting a new life chapter. (Spoiler alert: Bob goes vegan.)
“The Last Pig” will offer the mainstream an entirely new view of small-scale, “humane,” animal exploitation, which is so often glorified as the answer to factory farms. So as “Cowspiracy” did with its indictment of the environmental problems of “sustainable” agriculture, “The Last Pig” does with the ethical issues. Like “The Ghosts in Our Machine” did by centering completely on Jo-Anne and her work, “The Last Pig” has a personal and sharp focus on Bob.
Filmmaker Allison Argo wants “The Last Pig” to force non-vegan viewers to confront their own belief systems, their relationships to nonhuman animals, and their capacity for compassion.
Allison’s work has won more than 100 awards including six Emmys, aired on networks like Nat Geo and PBS, and spans companion animals to endangered species. Even long ago as a vegetarian (now vegan) Allison wanted to focus her camera on farmed animals, but never hit on the right approach or story — and then she heard about Bob just like we all did”.
Here’s the campaign link: http://www.igg.me/at/the-last-pig
The Official website is http://www.thelastpig.com
Alright it’s time for…
“THE CLIMATE VARIETY HOUR …. in just 10 minutes.”
For folks trained by the Tweetosphere, here are some of the climate sounds that zipped past my ears this week, some of them thanks to tips from Radio Ecoshock listeners.
BERNIE SANDERS KNOWS CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL
Are you tired of Republican climate deniers, and Democratic wafflers? Here is a minute and a half from Democractic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders’ speech to enthusiastic,mostly African-American, college students at Benedict College in Columbia South Carolina, on September 9th, 2015.
You can watch Bernie’s full speech at Benedict College on You tube here.
CLIMATE CHANGE HUMOR FROM THE GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER
In the United Kingdom, the Guardian Newspaper has been showing what climate-responsible media can be. If you’ve wondered when the Coastal real estate market will crash, here is a Guardian vignette as we enter an over-sized house with the local realtor….
“Looking for a beachfront home with a beautiful deck boasting killer ocean views? Why not check out this dream property in the Hamptons. Just ignore the rising tides, the increasingly severe hurricanes and the swallowing up of the east coast by the Atlantic Ocean. You’d be out of your mind to overlook this steal!“
Watch this short Guardian humor clip here.
If rising seas will swallow the East Coast, just as the climate-hyped rains did this past week – maybe we need somewhere higher to go? All the plants and animals will seek a cooler climate further up the mountains. Here is the Guardian newspaper’s fake promo for the city that’s safe from rising seas…
Watch the fake Denver promo here.
We’ll close out the Guardian climate media with just a brief sample from New Orleans musicians Tom Henehan and David S Lewis. They’ve had the “Climate Change Blues” ever since Hurricane Katrina nearly drowned their city.
The whole series was sponsored by a progressive ice cream company. Bless you Ben and Jerry.
SONG: “GOODBYE COOL WORLD” by THE CANTRELLS
I know music is a very personal thing. What I like, you may hate, and vice versa. That’s why I leave my push for climate change music to the end of the show. Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to try to sing this time. This week we have real musicians, the Cantrells. From Nashville Tennessee, Al and Emily Cantrell perform “Goodbye Cool World”. You can listen or buy this song on Bandcamp here. Support climate music!
I’m Alex. Don’t forget, (if you made it all the way through this horribly long blog) – you can help keep Radio Ecoshock going by donating at this page.
Thank you for listening to Radio Ecoshock, and be sure and tune in next week, as we investigate “Climate Shock” and China’s new plan for an “ecological civilization”.