Today (22nd May) is the International Day for Biological Diversity – which I want to celebrate in the following way.

You know those clocks that you see on websites like Population Matters: ‘Since you clicked onto this website, XXX babies have been born – sorry, make that XXX + 1, XXX + 2, and so on.’

Well, I have a new idea: that we should develop a rather different kind of clock recording the number of minutes that pass before the CEO of any of the UK’s major conservation/environment organisations can bring her or himself to make a substantive, public and recorded contribution to the population debate here in the UK.

I’ve just proposed this to my good colleague, Robin Maynard, Director of Population Matters. Unfortunately, he’s turned me down on the grounds of ‘better to build bridges than to knock them down, Jonathon.’

He’s right of course, so I might just do it on my own account – starting right now. And should any of my beloved blog followers ever spot such a contribution – sightings of which are rarer than sightings of black panthers on Bodmin Moor – then please alert me, so I can judge whether it’s kosher or not, and, if it is, re-wind the counter to zero.

I know what you must be thinking: yet another spasm of Porritt anger on this score! Really? Well, yes – for the following ever-so-simple reason: in the eight months since October last year, we’ve had no less than six life-crushingly depressing reports of the impact of ever-larger numbers of human beings on biodiversity and the natural world:

1. Living Planet Report (October 2018, WWF International.)

This is the one that made me so unbelievably cross in the first place. See earlier blog.

2. Marine heatwaves threaten global biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services (March 2019, Smale, Wernberg et al.)

‘Marine Heat Waves, which will probably intensify with anthropogenic climate change, are rapidly emerging as forceful agents of disturbance with the capacity to restructure entire ecosystems and disrupt the provision of ecological goods and services in coming decades.”

3. Global Resources Outlook Report (March 2019, United Nations Environment Programme.)

This is a bit of a gob-smacker. The authors tracked our use of biological resources (eg crops, wood etc), metals, fossil fuels and non-metallic minerals over the past five decades, and found that global extraction had reached 92 billion tonnes in 2017, up from 27 billion tonnes in 1970.

Global extraction is expected to reach 190 billion tonnes in 2060! Despite the fact that the Report states that 90% of water stress and biodiversity loss, as well as half of climate change impacts, are attributable to the extraction and processing of natural resources.

You know the story here: since the 1970s, human population has doubled, and global GDP has quadrupled.

But in the usual style of international reports of this kind, the 2019 Global Resources Outlook completely fails to recommend any action on population, despite proving that it is as important as economic growth in driving biodiversity loss and water shortage.

4. Worldwide Decline of Entomofauna: A Review of its Drivers (April 2019, Francisco Sánchez-Bayo & Kris A. G. Wyckhuys). This is the so-called ‘insectageddon’ article.!

‘Our work reveals dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40% of the world’s insect species over the next few decades.’

‘The main drivers of species declines appear to be in order of importance: i) habitat loss and conversion to intensive agriculture and urbanisation; ii) pollution, mainly that by synthetic pesticides and fertilisers; iii) biological factors, including pathogens and introduced species; and iv) climate change.’

Overpopulation not referred to explicitly. And, as per usual, no policy recommendations regarding family planning etc!

5. The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture (April 2019, UN Food and Agriculture Organization).

‘For some crops and in some areas, plant diversity in farmers’ fields is decreasing, and threats to diversity are increasing. Nearly a third of fish stocks are overfished, and a third of freshwater fish species assessed are considered threatened.’

6. Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (May 2019)
This comes from the UN Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Quote from IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson: ‘The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.’

All of which means that there are now one million species at risk of extinction, with the culprits cited in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

That sounds like just another population-denying summary. But not a bit of it! Check out this all-important paragraph: ‘The negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystem functions are projected to continue or worsen in many future scenarios in response to indirect drivers such as rapid human population growth, unsustainable production and consumption and associated technological development. In contrast, scenarios and pathways that explore the effects of a low-to-moderate population growth, and transformative changes in production and consumption of energy, food, feed, fibre and water, sustainable use, equitable sharing of the benefits arising from use and nature-friendly climate adaptation and mitigation, will better support the achievement of future societal and environmental objectives.’

So just sit back for a moment and think about the implications of those six reports.

Here’s my bridge-building offer to all my colleagues in the conservation/environment movement here in the UK:

WWF-UK – Tanya Steele (CEO)
Greenpeace UK – John Sauven (Executive Director)
Friends of the Earth – Craig Bennett (Chief Executive Officer)
The Wildlife Trusts – Stephanie Hilborne (Chief Executive)
RSPB – Dr Mike Clarke (Chief Executive)
CPRE – Crispin Truman (Chief Executive)

Each of them can now stop my personalised counter by just finding an opportunity to quote that one paragraph in a recorded, public speech that you’re giving over the next three months, whilst at the same time endorsing the call from Population Matters for the Convention on Biological Diversity specifically to address human population issues during its critical meeting next year. You can’t get fairer than that!

Sorry to have to say this, dropping my sadly laboured satire, but it remains UNBELIEVABLE to me that the combined leadership of what is still (probably) the most inspiring, effective and historically significant Environment Movement anywhere in the world, has failed, and continues to fail, day after day, month after month, to do justice to a body of evidence that demonstrates incontrovertibly that overpopulation is a massive driver of ecosystem loss and species extinction.