Thursday, 23 May 2013

Addressing the bits we don't talk about

One of the joys of being a green heretic (TM) is that you are able to talk about the bits of ecological theory that traditionally aren't talked about. Because in most environmental issues there are topics that are considered off-limits, either because they result in bad publicity or are considered politically incorrect.

Yesterday a small one of these reared its head on our local radio show. The excellent host Mark O'Donnell was talking about the recent report showing a major decline in some wild species in the UK. I pointed out that one way to improve things was to get rid of cats, as they kill at least 50 million wild birds a year. I was expecting a deluge of complaint from cat-lovers, but even when Mark expanded this to point out that over 300 million wild birds and mammals killed by cats each year, most of the response was in support of reducing the cat population. But despite his personal support, it was also interesting that Mark treated the cat aspect as a humorous adjunct, the sort of skateboarding duck of the item. When he spoke to two experts about what we should do, in neither case did he mention the cats.

The fact is that the impact of cats isn't a joke, it is a real contributory factor to species decline and we need to consider which is more important, the need for cats to roam or the survival of our wild species. It is not ideal for the cat, but it is perfectly possible for a cat to be an animal that isn't allowed to roam wild, like a dog - it only takes a change in attitude in society. (And, as a bonus, those of us without cats would get our lawns covered in cat poo.)

This is a relatively minor example, but there are plenty of others we sweep under the carpet. The biggest by far is the impact of human population growth on the environment. The fact is that when we talk about global warming or our consumption of natural resources, the human population size is a fundamental variable. Admittedly it is difficult to do anything about it, which is part of the reason why it is usually treated as the elephant in the room. Adopting something like China's one child policy is not the answer and is not compatible with most ideas of democracy. But what we certainly should be doing is countering cultural and religious arguments that result in large families that are unnecessary in a modern civilization where so many children survive. It is time, for instance, for environmental lobbies to take on medieval attitudes to contraception and to consider education to encourage smaller families to be as important as setting up nature reserves to preserve the habitat of the lesser spotted, swivel-eyed peewit.

This has been a Green Heretic production.

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