A call to arms

Slash and burn is a major killer of tropical biodiversity

Every so often you come across a piece of information that is so outrageously horrifying that you either throw up your hands in nihlistic disgust with the human race, or you take your sword off the rack and start polishing.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew together with the Natural History Museum, London and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) today published a global analysis of plant extinction. The findings? At least one in five of the Earths estimated 380,000 plant species is close to disappearing. Check out this interactive map for details. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Director, Professor Stephen Hopper, said today with a hint of the British tendency towards understatement: “This study confirms what we already suspected, that plants are under threat and the main cause is human induced habitat loss.”

Proportion of plant species at risk in different habitats;

He goes on, somewhat more passionately; “We cannot sit back and watch plant species disappear — plants are the basis of all life on earth, providing clean air, water, food and fuel. All animal and bird life depends on them and so do we. Having the tools and knowledge to turn around loss of biodiversity is now more important than ever and the Sampled Red List Index for Plants gives conservationists and scientists one such tool.”


It is inspiring that someone who is so aware of how deeply we have screwed our environment still reaches for the sword. I often tell my friends when they swoon in the depths of despairing inaction (a priviledged pastime of the educated middle classes), if you really, deeply love the Earth, and are aware of it’s destruction.. how can you so easily let it go? If your family were diagnosed with a curable but terminal disease, would you sit back and whinge about how the system gave it to them?

So when we finish being horrified, it’s time for a plan of action. Understanding the causes of this problem is only the first step. As Hopper said, knowledge gives us a set of tools. It’s how we use those that really matters. But there’s no need to reinvent the wheel; Activists have been working for change for years, and succeeding.

I’m not going to detail all the civic options available for those of us who draw swords; people have written books on it, and what you can do depends entirely on where you live and under what political system. But I can point you in the right direction.

Visit the  change agency for advice on creating change, along with a great list of activist stories.

Meet Steve Chase: author of The well trained activist blog, an experienced environmental activist who now teaches a Masters in advocacy for sustainability at a university in New England, in the US.

Find out about the causes of tropical deforestation (the biggest threat) in this article by Renaissance magazine.

Look up an environmental organisation near you on Wiser Earth that you can contact for advice, volunteer with or send money to.

Read this Environmental activists guide by OneWorld

Check out all the other links on this blog right at the bottom for useful tools, sites and organisations you can link up with. And for the Earth’s (and our survival’s) sake, don’t waste time swanning around in a self indulgent fug of misery. It’s easy to feel alienated from the political process in our globalised and complex world. When politics is swamped in paper, representatives cease to represent, and the machinations of history seem to thunder on regardless of the will of the little people caught in the middle, even CEOs of multinational corporations can feel that it’s just all too big for them to influence. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that change is not only natural but inevitable. It’s easy to forget that if you’re reading this now.. chances are you’re a member of the computer owning, english speaking global elite. That makes you one of the most powerful people in the world, better placed to push for change than the vast majority of souls, and with a responsibility to those who don’t have your opportunities. So what will you raise, your hands, or your sword?

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