Extinction is Forever

By Tooker Gomberg, Montreal Canada.

The World Conservation Union eats Caribou while species disappear.

Bring together 2500 environmentalists and what do they talk about? Aliens. What do they distribute? Photos of John Bobbitt’s severed penis. As the eleven day congress of the World Conservation Union neared completion this week in Montreal, more than anything else extinction was on people’s minds.

The aliens, or invasive species, are an enormous problem – they often squeeze indigenous species out of existence. The penis was featured in a photocopy of an ad sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). It explained that 10,000 seals are slaughtered annually by Canadian fishermen, and the penises sold to the Chinese who believe them to be an aphrodisiac. The ad was being circulated along with a note urging delegates to not allow the IFAW to join the Union.

The World Conservation Union, headquartered in Switzerland, was founded in 1948. It is an international network of almost 900 members including non-governmental organizations, government agencies, and nations with representatives from 133 countries. They specialize in scientific measurements of the threat of extinction and they promote conservation.

The Union is best known for its listing of species in danger of extinction. They recently released the Red List: a grim report that describes almost one fourth of the 1,000 or so known mammals as threatened with extinction, as are eleven percent of all the world’s bird species. Extinction means blotted out of existence; annihilated.

Faced with such horror, I expected to hear anger and passion. Yet the alarm bells rarely rang in the cavernous meeting rooms. At the fifty seven workshops, suited scientists and polite government delegates groped towards solutions. They discussed biodiversity, and talked about the need to empower local communities to manage resources in a sustainable way. Delegates pondered the fact that government budgets are shrinking and recognized the vastly growing power of transnational corporations.

Somehow, however, the planet’s gasps were barely audible. Maybe it was all the concrete. Maybe it was the processed air and artificial lighting.

I had hoped to hear talk about frogs. The Washington Post ran a front page story on September 30 about kids going on a field trip in Minnesota, and discovering large numbers of deformed frogs. Frogs with extra legs, paralyzed legs, frogs with missing eyes. There was a one-eyed frog that had the second eye growing inside its throat.

Such deformed frogs are being found throughout the state, as well as in the St. Lawrence River valley. Near some lakes virtually all the frogs were deformed. Nobody knows what’s causing it: maybe pesticides, thinning ozone, or parasites. It’s being called an ‘animal Love Canal’. If it’s happening to frogs, can humans be far behind?

Back at the convention centre were displays of small chunks of moss and grass, as well as a few spindly trees, – a dim echo of the glorious maples flaming outside. The animal kingdom was represented by caribou, roasted leg of deer (with cranberries), hunks of beef, buffalo, rabbit, partridge, and pheasant, all served at an ostentatious Friday evening banquet. Hungry vegetarians were left to survive on bread and coleslaw.

Once in a while a nugget of truth broke through the drone of the thoughtful presentations. $450 billion is spent annually on advertising, equivalent to the GNP of Netherlands or Australia! Clearly, overconsumption leads to environmental destruction and is a root cause of extinction.

The assets of the world’s richest 350 people are equal to the assets of the poorest 50% of the world! Surely equity must be strived for.

The combined sales of the ten largest corporations is greater than the Gross Domestic Product (G.D.P.) of the 100 smallest countries! The power of the corporations needs to be addressed.

Yet these huge challenges somehow eluded the congress. And the promises of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro have been hijacked by a corporate agenda intent on gutting government and cutting regulation. Rio had promised increased aid, the transfer of environmentally sound technologies, and increased trade and access to markets. Only the latter has come to pass.

The Union seems intent on working for incremental gains and, since government is on the decline, embracing the corporate sector.

Yet there is a monster on the loose, and it’s after more than penises. It wants the whole thing. It’s an alien force, unnatural. It doesn’t breath, and it doesn’t feel. It has little compassion, and is enormously greedy. It has a giant invisible hand, and it crushes opposition. It knows what it wants from the host, and it doesn’t seem to care if it kills it. It has enormous power, and it’s coming to an ecosystem near you. Surely it’s time to challenge the corporations.

Is it even possible to clean up the mess and protect habitat? Of course it is: just 10% of $1 trillion spent annually on armaments would allow for the implementation of Agenda 21, the list of agreements from the Earth Summit in Rio. It’s time to re-prioritize our spending and address the real threats to our security, namely, ecological collapse. Or, quite possibly, face extinction.

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