There will be very few people who could watch David Attenborough’s extinction documentary and not be completely heartbroken at the devastation humanity has inflicted on the earth. I had to watch between fingers as the veteran conservationist told us that an eighth of the planet’s species are at risk, and the situation is getting worse.
It was clear, too, that this was no natural phenomenon. Research suggest that extinction is now happening hundreds of times faster than the natural evolutionary rate and what’s worse, it is accelerating.
On the last two white rhinos in existence, Kenyan conservationist James Mwenda said: “We betrayed them.” He’s right.
Our lives can feel removed from the plight of wild animals in Rwanda or Brazil, but there’s no doubt that the breakdown of our ecosystems is more visible than ever. The Los Angeles Times has called the wildfires there a “climate apocalypse”. A huge chunk of ice has broken away from the Arctic’s largest remaining ice shelf in north-east Greenland. Closer to home, Scotland’s railways and other infrastructure are at risk from landslips.
While I’m certain any politician who watched the Attenborough documentary will have been moved by it, it’s time they started feeding that concern into action.
With Labour opening new coal mines, the Liberal Democrats opposing moves to get more people cycling and walking, the Conservatives trying to add lanes to our motorways and the SNP still cosying up to the oil and gas industry, their environmental concerns must either be cognitive dissonance or crocodile tears.
We need to act now, before it’s too late. We need to heed the small glimmers of hope Attenborough showed us too, where he showed us how the mountain gorillas he had met in the 1970s had survived because of the coordination of three national governments.
In Scotland, the Scottish Government hasn’t even enacted the will of parliament and public opinion to stop the mass killing of mountain hares on Scotland’s grouse moors yet. They allowed the open season on this declining native species to happen weeks after parliament had backed my amendment to give them protected status.
With the USA set to pull out of the Paris agreement to keep global temperatures down, the UK taking little action to meet its own climate targets and pessimism around the EU’s talks with China this week, some people might say that Scotland is too small and too poor to make a difference. They’re wrong to be so pessimistic. With a seat at the European table Scotland would have the renewables potential to lead.
But we must also act locally too. The decline in Scottish species is not slowing down. We are in a nature emergency as well as a climate emergency, yet the Scottish Government is to take word ‘sustainable’ out of Scottish Planning Policy. We need to be strengthening not weakening the planning system so that the natural world isn’t sacrificed to poor developments.
The Scottish Government also continue to commit to major subsidies of fossil fuel extraction and road expansions. It’s not good enough. Like David Attenborough, I believe we can build a better future. But governments need to act now.