So big, you cannot see it
Updated: Apr 12
The late, great Terry Pratchett and his writing conspirator Neil Gaiman wrote a line in Good Omens that went something along the lines of “She couldn’t see his aura for the same reason someone standing in Trafalgar Square couldn’t see England”. The David Attenborough-narrated BBC documentary Climate Change – The Facts about global warming, the resultant climate change, and the resultant impacts to the environment of climate change put me in mind of that.
David Wallace-Wells starts his non-fiction book The Uninhabitable Earth: A story of the
future with the chilling sentence: “It’s worse, much worse, than you think.”
Collapse by Jared Diamond, an anthropologist’s examination of human societies that have
collapsed for varying reasons, concludes that human societies are very fragile things. Cut off
the water supply and they’re gone in three weeks.
The impact of human activity on global temperatures, on the climate, on the environment,
and on the very existence of the human race, bring to mind that Pratchett / Gaiman quote.
Problems so big I can’t get my head round them, and with such swift and final potential
consequences I can’t really imagine them.
The world is on track for a global temperature rise of between 3 and 6 degrees by 2100. The
last time the average global temperature went that high, 250 million years ago, 96% of all
living things on the planet were wiped out. That rise took place over 10,000 years. Mankind
will have achieved it in less than 200. Part of me thinks it’s best not to think about that,
because if I try the only rational thing to do is to scream until I expire.
What else can I do?
There’s a common message that the only thing I should not do is nothing. If everyone does
nothing, then nothing can change. But it seems too big. So I break it down into pieces I can
imagine, that are addressable. One of those pieces is deforestation, the removal of old
forests and jungles to use the land for production of food for human consumption such as
palm oil. In Asia especially this is as big a threat to the remaining rhinos as poaching. And
poaching, well. There’s something that can be seen, can be understood, and that something
can be done about.
In Africa, there are the white and the black rhinos. The white rhino is split into two
subspecies, the northern, and the southern. The northern is now down to two individuals in
the Ol Pejeta conservancy in northern Kenya. The black rhino was split into four subspecies,
the eastern, the western, the north-eastern and the southern. All but the eastern are
already extinct, with the western being declared so as recently as 2011, the last one having
been seen in Cameroon in 2006.
In Asia, of the three species of Indian, Sumatran and Javan rhinos: the Sumatran numbers less than 80 individuals in Indonesia, having been declared locally extinct in Malaysia in November 2019; the Javan rhino numbers around 60 individuals and has been wiped out everywhere except for a tiny part of Indonesia; the Indian rhino, whilst only listed as ‘Vulnerable’, numbers only 2,500.
But there is hope. The southern white rhino population went as low as 11 at one point, but
has been brought back to around 20,000 by conservation efforts, and has been reintroduced
into the wild in many of the countries where they had been wiped out as well as at least one
where they never ranged (Laiyanghe National Forest Park in China).
It’s not possible to save your own rhinos and leave food out for a colony in your garden, but you can give money to the charities desperately trying to prevent further extinctions amongst these wonderful animals. Or you could run a marathon in a rhino costume to raise money. Douglas Adams climbed Kilimanjaro in one. (Well, he wore one for a bit, then took it off and climbed Kilimanjaro in more regular attire, but near enough).