Wise words from EWT’s CEO

I received the latest EWT (Endangered Wildlife Trust) newsletter this morning, and the introduction written by CEO Yolan Friedmann really struck a cord with me. So much so that I feel the need to share it with you… (hopefully both Yolan and the EWT are cool with that!)

“Numbers. Mathematical objects used to count, label and measure. Loved by politicians, journalists and teachers, adored by accountants and biologists. Depending on the context, these configurations of symbols have the power to shock us, thrill us or catalyse intense debate about not only the system of tallying which was applied, but the implication of such numbers for the object of its measure. Let me demonstrate: 38 – the number of Blue Swallow pairs left in South Africa. 600 – the number of rhino South Africa will probably lose to poachers during 2012. 48 (or so) days until Christmas and then another 7 until the end of 2012! But the scariest of them all is that there are now over 51.8 million people living in South Africa! That’s a worrying 13% increase in just 10 years! Globally, the human population crossed the 7 billion mark in March 2011. By far the most successful species to ever have existed, human beings seem to multiply despite the stresses of famine, disease, pollution, natural disasters, perpetual conflict and warfare and simply put, our increasingly unsustainable modern way of life, stresses that would probably have wiped out most other species!

So I am going to say it. It is probably no coincidence that the trends within the numbers of so many species are changing disproportionately to the trends within the numbers of humans. There are, simply put, too many humans. Yes, I have had endless debates and hours of discussion with various parties who argue that qualitative measures are more important than quantitative. So it is not about the number of humans per se, but more about the footprint of each human being, the quantity of resources we consume, destroy or just ruin, for others. The social scientists will argue that we need to reduce our impact and not our numbers; numbers alone don’t tell the story. The latter comment is of course true, but let’s consider this: we don’t always employ the ‘qualitative’ argument when we turn the discourse to other species. Numbers alone tell us that we will very possibly lose the last Blue Swallow or East Indian Ocean Dugong, the last of a range of cycads and even the last Wild Dog in South Africa in the next few years unless some drastic action is taken. Numbers alone tell us that the markets in the east for the resources in the south are simply too big to ensure sustainability. Numbers alone send shivers down our spine when the rhino poaching stats are revealed every year.

Yet numbers of humans is a taboo subject in most civilized circles. So let’s qualify the human population issue then. Person number 7 billion, when he or she was born last year, stood a 1 in 7 chance of going to bed hungry for most of his or her life. Over 18 000 people will die of hunger and over 3 000 will die from water related diseases – just today. Around 7 million children will die before they reach their 5th birthday this year. Not much quality for many, many people it seems. And the majority of the people that are counted into the stats above, come from the most populous countries with the highest population growth. Coming back home, 51.8 million folk is a lot of people to house, feed, educate and provide with work. It’s a lot of folk competing with Blue Swallows and Wild Dogs for land and food. Bottom line: Quality versus quantity aside, there are just too many people on planet earth, and if you ask me, this is the greatest and possibly most pressing challenge that the conservation community, AND the social scientists, politicians and in fact every one of us has to admit to, and address if we are ever to comprehend the notion of sustainability, for the sake of not only our wildlife but the future generations of humans too.”

Visit the EWT’s website for more information about the important work they do: https://www.ewt.org.za/