Category Archives: Bio-Diversity

Opinions about bio-diversity and its importance to life on the planet

The Ocean is our Friend

All life on the planet relies on our oceans for survival. As David Attenborough said,

“The animal world can’t operate without a healthy ocean and neither can we. The ocean is a critical ally in our battle to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. The more diverse it is the better it does its job.”


The nations of the world recognized in 2022 at the UN conference on bio-diversity, held in Canada, that bio-diversity was vital to the world but was under attack by human activity.

The ocean is also a vital source of food and again, that source is under siege as a result of human actions. The healthier our oceans are the more food it can supply. What’s bad for the ocean is bad for us too.

Our world with its growing populations needs all the healthy food it can get. We must be careful not to ruin good sources of food. It would be in our best interests to conserve those sources, including clearly, the oceans.

Palau is an island nation that recognized the importance of its marine life and also recognized that the marine life was disappearing. As a result, it established reserves where fishing was not permitted. Consequently, those actions were so successful that the fish population increased substantially. In fact, fish populations were so healthy and abundant that marine life spilled over into unprotected areas where fishers could catch the prey. The local fishers benefited as their coral reefs recovered too. That is a win/win situation, to use an over-worked phrase. Why don’t we do that around the world?

According to Attenborough,

Estimates suggest, that no fish zones in one third of our coastal seas would be sufficient to provide all the fish we will ever need.  In international waters, the UN is attempting to create the biggest no fish zone of all. In one act this will transform the open ocean from a place where fish are exhausted by fishing fleets to a wilderness that will help us all in our efforts to combat climate change. The world’s greatest wildlife reserve in the world.”


And of course, at the same time, such measures will increase our supply of healthy food immensely!  And, to get mushy, millions of fish will be happier.

The ocean is our friend.


Re-wild the Planet

David Attenborough in his testament statement on  his show A Life on the Planet, said there was a straightforward way out of our world crisis. I found this very difficult to believe.  He said we had to re-wild the planet and we could do it, so that 100 years from now the planet will be wild again.

One of my favorite environmental writers, George Monbiot, a columnist for the The Guardian said something similar. Since two of my favorite environmentalists made a similar statement, I decided I should pay attention.

Attenborough said every species reaches a natural limit of its population. That is the population that can be supported by our planet. Anything more makes our life here unsustainable.

Because there is nothing restricting us, during my lifetime, the human population has been growing dramatically. During my lifetime so far, the population has grown from approximately 2.5 billion people to 8.2 billion. That is a pretty big increase. Scientists are predicting that there will be 11 billion people on earth by 2100. That is about when my youngest granddaughter will reach 80 years old (I hope).

We could stop population growth before it reaches that point. Japan has stopped its population growth. They are actually worrying about not having enough people and are encouraging their citizens to have more children, but the people of Japan are resisting.

The birth rate fell in the last half of the 20th century as their standard of living grew. Their population growth has stabilized. Attenborough says, there are signs that it is happening around the world. The number of children being born around the world and the growth of the population is about to level off. It is likely that the population growth of the world will peak in the near future for the first time. That will make everything we have to do easier, says Attenborough. But not easy.

What we need to do is help people to live better! In other words, we should help people get out of poverty, give all access to health care, and enabling people, girls in particular, to stay in school as long as possible, we can make the world’s population peak sooner and at a lower level.


Why wouldn’t we want to do that?  Many will say they don’t want to pay for this. But this would benefit all of us! Not just those in the poorer countries. All of us benefit from this approach! We should help others to reach these goals for our selfish reasons! Because it will be good for us!


But we have to raise the standard of living of people around the world without raising their impact. Attenborough says there are ways that we can do this. That is the challenge.


Attenborough Begins to Rail


David Attenborough for most of his career did not preach or rail.  He thought he could make the best contribution to life on our planet by showing us the natural world in all of its beauty and glory, while not hiding the challenges we face. He thought we would catch on and that railing or preaching would not be productive.

Then in the last couple of years he changed his point of view. In fact, he was hired as the representative of the people for climate change and in 2018 spoke eloquently at the UN Climate Change Conference in his new role. He realized his old role was not effective enough. He pointed out that he had been extraordinarily lucky in his life and chosen profession. He also admitted he would feel awfully guilty if he saw the problems, as he had done, and then chose to ignore them. He could not do that anymore.

In his speech to the conference, referring to climate change,  he said this:

“Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. If we don’t take action the collapse of our civilizations and much of the natural world is on our horizon.”


 Attenborough also attended the meeting of the über wealthy at Davos Switzerland in 2019. There he showed a film with some horrific scenes. It showed walruses pushed to the edge of a cliff where some of them fell over, bouncing on the rocks to their violent death. The attendees had a very difficult time watching the scenes. So did I as I watched the video. Many people averted or covered their eyes. It was too painful and horrible for them to look. But looking away is not the answer. Is it?

In his television series Our Planet, he said,

We are facing the collapse of the living world the very thing that gave birth to our civilization…It is the very thing we rely upon for all of the elements of the lives we lead. No one wants this to happen. None of us can afford for it to happen. So what do we do? It’s quite straightforward. It’s been staring us in the face all along. To restore stability to our planet we must restore its biodiversity. The very thing that we’ve removed. It’s the only way out of this crisis that we’ve created. We must re-wild the world.”


I’m not sure its straight-forward, but I know it certainly is not simple.  It is our consumption that has caused this situation and that is tied to almost everything we do as a species.

The first step, as I have been saying, is to change our attitude to nature. That is the fundamental problem. We started out on the wrong foot and will never recover, unless we go back and start on the right foot.

Our Planet


In his testament statement in the PBS film Our Planet, David Attenborough pointed out something interesting, namely, that,

 “a change in atmospheric carbon was a feature of all 5 mass extinctions. In previous events it had taken volcanic activity up to 1 million years to dredge up enough carbon from within the earth to trigger a catastrophe. By burning millions of years of organic organisms all at once, it we had managed to do so in less than 200.

The amount of carbon in the atmosphere is extremely important.

 Until then the ocean had been able to absorb all of that carbon, masking our impact. It was clear to scientists that the earth was beginning to lose its balance. The ocean was no longer able to absorb all of that carbon we have been spewing into the atmosphere. As a result, the mild Holocene epoch, that was so favourable to human life,  was drawing to a close much sooner than expected.

Attenborough and his television crews, like others,  had noticed that things were changing rapidly in the Arctic. Places they could not reach before were now easily accessible. The northern pole was much different than it was. And by 2011 the reasons for the change were well established. As a result, the global temperature is 1ºC warmer than it was when David Attenborough and John Neufeld were born.  Although 1ºC does not seem like much of a change, we must remember that ‘it took less warming, 6 degrees C (10.8 degrees F), to lift the world out of the Ice Age… That’s the profundity of the change we’re talking about.” In other words, a 1 ºC global average temperature is a very big deal. Some scientific studies have said we are already on track for a 5 ºC average global temperature rise.

 We have no reason to be glib about a 1 ºC rise in global average temperature rise in my lifetime! This speed of change exceeds anything that has happened in the last 10,000 years, when the world was embedded in an Ice Age.

 In the last 40 years, the polar ice has been reduced by 40%. I have been married for more than 50 years. The fact is, as David Attenborough said, “the planet is losing its ice.” Though I have lost my attraction for ice, this is not a good thing. This is a very dangerous thing. As Attenborough said,

 “this most pristine and distant of ecosystems is headed for disaster. Our impact is now truly global.  Our impact now truly profound. Our blind assault on the planet has finally come to affect the very fundamentals of our world.”


It is time we really looked closely at our impact on the planet. That impact is incredible. And incredibly dangerous! As Attenborough said,

“We have overfished 30% of fish stocks to critical levels. We cut down over 15 billion trees each year. By damning, polluting, and over-extracting rivers and lakes we’ve reduced the fresh water populations by over 80%. We are replacing the wild with the tame. Half of the fertile land of the earth is now farmland. 70% of the mass of birds on this planet are now domestic birds, the vast majority chickens. We account for over one third of the weight of mammals on earth. A further 60% are the animals we raise to eat. The rest, from mice to whales, make up just 4%. This is now our planet, run by humankind  for humankind.  There is little left for the rest of the world.”

We are really turning this planet into “our planet.” One species–humans–is doing this. We are changing the planet in a big way. Do we know what we are doing?

Who among us thinks this makes sense?  Who among us could deny that we need—urgently need—a new attitude to nature?

From Wonderland to Wasteland


Some ecosystems, like the Amazon rainforest, or the North American prairies, have been assaulted by humans. As a result, vast tracts of each have been destroyed in favor of human designed systems.  For example, rainforests contain more than half of all terrestrial species and those forests depend on diversity. Yet, in places like Borneo, and others, humans have devastated the rainforest ecosystem by turning it into mono-cultures of oil palms. We did the same with prairies of course. Humans have been doing this over and over again.  In a single small parcel of tropical rainforest there could be as many as 700 species of trees. That is as much diversity of trees as all of North America put together.  David Attenborough said that the mono-culture of what was once a tropical rainforest is dead in comparison to the diversity of a rainforest.


We could say the same about the farmers’ field in comparison to the ecosystem of North American tall grass prairie. One is dead. Humans benefit two times when the cut down a forest. First, they can use the timber. Secondly, they can use the bare land that is left for agricultural crops.  As Attenborough said, “That is why we have cut down 3 trillion trees across the world. Half of the world’s rainforests have already been cleared.It is a gross understatement to say that we are a rapacious species. Similarly, we have cut down 70% of the North American prairies and ploughed 98 to 99% of its tall grass prairie.


During Attenborough’s lifetime and mine, we have reduced the population of orangutans by 2/3rds. As Attenborough said, “We can’t cut down the rainforest forever, and what we can’t do forever is by definition unsustainable.”

I would say the same thing about the prairies and tall grass prairies of North America. Also unsustainable. The same goes for the ocean.

By 1997 the word population had risen to 5.9 billion, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had risen to 360 ppm while the remaining wilderness was reduced by 46%.  By now we can all see the pattern is clear.

The ocean of course was the world’s first ecosystem. That is where scientists believe life on the planet began. Most of the ocean is barren of life, but there are hot spots where there occurs an explosion of life. Colourful and beautiful life. Huge shoals of fish gather in such spots. But humans have learned how to find these hotspots too. And they have come equipped with the best of modern equipment.

Humans have been harvesting these hotspots on an industrial scale. Industrial style fishing really started in the 1950s and, as Attenborough said, “yet we’ve removed 90% of the large fish in the sea.” Bizarrely, governments around the world started to subsidize these industrial fleets in order to maintain them while they refrained from maintaining marine life on the planet. We allowed it to be ravished. We have also relentlessly attacked other marine species. Our species is by far the worst serial predators on the planet because we kill  species with astonishing mechanical tools. That is one of the reasons that those who believe humans might be headed to extinction along with their rapacious society sometimes cheer for the other side.

David Attenborough pointed out that “without large fish and other marine predators the oceanic nutrient cycle stutters.” The predators help the oceans to recycle marine life. Without them the hotspots diminish and the oceans start to die.

But, as Attenborough said, “ocean life was also unravelling in the shallows.”  The film crews he was working with stumbled across an event that was poorly understood at the time. “Coral reefs were turning white.” This was frightening because coral reefs contain about 25% of all the creatures of the sea even though they covered a small percentage of the planet. This was a serious challenge. The white colours are caused by the fact that the coral expel symbiotic algae that lived inside their bodies. Attenborough described this process as “turning from wonderland to wasteland.

That is what our current attitude to nature is leading us to. A wasteland.


Champions for the Earth


By 1978, when I had recently begun a legal career the population of the world was numbered at 4.3 billion, the carbon in the atmosphere was 335 ppm and the remaining wilderness of the world had been reduced to 55%.

David Attenborough travelled around the world that year to create a portrait of life on the planet.  He said he already noticed that some wildlife was getting noticeably harder to find.  I was not that smart yet at that time. Not that I am much smarter now.

I remember going on some fly-in fishing trips with friends in Northern Manitoba at about that time. We thought fish were endless. Of course, that was not true.  We thought birds were everywhere. They weren’t. I took as many photographs as I could when I was not fishing. Soon photographing and exploring nature would overwhelm my interest in fishing. My attitudes to nature were changing, but they had not changed enough.

I remember being disgusted at one member of our group on one of those trips tossing a beer bottle into the water from his fishing boat. I knew this was abhorrent, but I said nothing. I did not want to rock the boat. He was a client of ours and I did not want to insult him. I am not proud of the cowardice I showed that day. It’s like keeping quite when you hear someone utter a racial slur. The planet needs better champions than that. It needs even better ones today!

David Attenborough was lucky enough to see Mountain gorillas in the wild. But there were very few left.   But even those numbers needed to have a 24 hour human guard to protect them from human poachers. There were only about 300 left on a remote mountain reserve.  Baby gorillas were treasured. Poachers might kill 10 or more adults to get at one young gorilla. Sometimes people are scum. The scum of the earth.

Some think that people have outlived their usefulness on the planet. They want humans to be the next extinct species. That is pretty drastic. But who deserves it more than us?


Africa Needs Lions



When we were in Africa 10 years ago (2013) we visited Antelope Park in Zimbabwe. They claim to be Southern Africa’s Most Intriguing Destination. It is home to the world famous ALERT lion. That is a sophisticated program to re-introduce lions into the wild to support the declining lion population.

It is set in more than 3,000 acres of open savannah grassland. In addition to walking with lions it offers elephant rides [of which I don’t approve], canoeing on the tranquil lake or river and a swimming pool.  Of course, it is most famous for allowing people to walk with a lion!  Their motto is very apt, “Where else in the world?’

Their goal is to ethically re-introduce lions into the world by doing that with the offspring of captive bred lions.  ALERT was founded in 2005. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to the facilitation and promotion of sound conservation strategies and management plans for the African lion in consultation with governments and wild life authorities and African communities.

The Trust that was established has a four stage African Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Program. They want to augment proposals to stop the serious decline in lion populations in Africa.

No human contact is permitted at stage 2 of the program to ensure that the lions that are introduced to the wild have had no human contact. These are the offspring of the lions that had contact with humans. The young of the captive lions has no contact with humans whatsoever.

In every pride of lions, there is a male lion that takes over the group of lions. This is the dominant lion. The humans keep a close eye so they know which is the dominant male.  When food is put out for them it is quickly obvious which is the dominant male. When the dominant male comes to the carcass, as we saw, he flings himself right on top of it to hog the meat. He does not care about any of the other lions even those who have caught the prey. The dominant lion eats first.  There is no sharing if he can help it. He does not subscribe to the maxim ‘sharing is caring.’

While we visited the park, we were taken to a pen where there was an animal carcass, cut into a few pieces, right in front of the fences behind which we stood. We were warned to get ready. The gate at the far end of the pen was opened and 3 male lions—huge male lions—rushed right at us. They were loud and aggressive and fast.  They made deep ominous sounds. Had I been the prey, the sound alone would have killed me.  It was terrifying.  It was extremely exciting. I sure was glad to be behind a strong (I hoped) chain link fence. I would not have wanted to be the prey.  It would have been a very short life. They lunged at the carcass. Two lions each grabbed a small piece of meat, before the dominant male leaped onto the carcass, hogging it for himself.


To photograph the event, I placed my camera on continuous shooting mode. I shot the images through the chain link fence which is basically invisible because I was so close to the fence. It blurred into invisibility.  I fired away as the lions bolted right at me. It was amazingly exciting. Even though I knew the fence was there, it was thrilling.

When we saw the 3 males lions bounding at the carcass the 2 non-dominant males ran as fast as they could because they realized that when the dominant male arrived there would not be any sharing after that. So they tried to get a piece of meat before the king arrived.

Lions in the wild learn to eat fast. They have to eat before competitors come for the carcass. They have to eat before the dominant male if they can. It took these 3 males a few minutes to consume the carcass.


While I was there, I purchased a T-shirt that read, “Africa needs lions.” African lions are disappearing fast. That really is the point. We need lions. We need nature.

This is how humans do it.  they drive animals toward extinction and at the 11th hour, or later, we make heroic efforts at great expense to save them. Now humans are trying to make amends for the havoc they have imposed on lions. It is really too little too late. But I hope it is part of a revaluation of our attitude to nature. We really need a new attitude to nature. And we need it fast before its too late.

Serengeti: The Garden of Eden


When we went to Africa, we experienced some astounding wildlife reserves including Chobe National Park and Kruger National Park. But sadly, we did not get to go to the Serengeti. That is still a dream. I had a chance to go to it earlier this year, but that did not work out.

According to my cousin, Erich Vogt, the Serengeti is the Garden of Eden. He understand, I believe, that the world was sacred. The Masai word “Serengeti” means “endless plains.”  Well, the Serengeti is no longer the Garden of Eden and it is certainly not endless. But we once thought it was endless. Wish it were so.

The wildebeest is certainly one o f the ugliest of animals, but it endless fascinating. The Serengeti contains millions of wildebeest, hundreds of thousands of gazelles and many other species in astonishing abundance. Yet scientists now know that the Serengeti requires enormous grasslands to support such abundance and if those grasslands are lost or degraded the entire incredible ecosystem can collapse. The wilderness is finite. It is fragile, and it needs protection.

Frankly that is exactly what happened in North America.  Now you can drive from Manitoba to Arizona as we have done a number of times and see very little wildlife.  Nearly none. That is a pity because when Europeans contacted North America there were more wild life than all of Africa. That seems unbelievable today, but that is what happened. We lost those wild spaces. They were ploughed over and built over. This to my mind is a clear sign of decline.

In 1968 astronauts for the first time travelled far enough into space to see the entire globe at one time. They broadcast amazing photographs of this pale blue dot floating in the void. It was a remarkable photograph. It changed the attitudes of a lot of people to our planet. Many of us realized that the world was limited. We could see it was limited. But it did not change us enough. We still have not changed enough. We still need a new attitude to nature.

David Attenborough said a fundamental truth was revealed the day that photograph was broadcast:

“Our home was not limitless. There was an edge to our existence. It was a rediscovery of a fundamental truth: we are ultimately bound by and reliant upon the finite natural world around us.”


That fact must settle in. We must really come understand it. We must live that truth. Or we are destined to continue desecrating our sacred world. We must retain the sacred in the earth.

Africa a place of unbounding Abundance: Elephants


David Attenborough made his first trip to Africa in 1960.  Back then it really did seem inconceivable that a single species could threaten life on the planet. We were ignorant. There was such a species—Homo sapiens.

We went to Chobe National Park in Botswana where there are more elephants than anywhere else in the world. You have to work hard not to see any.


53 years later, when I went to Africa in 2013, I was blown away by the astonishing amount of wildlife. It seemed like every few minutes in our safari vehicles we would see an amazing array of wildlife. And compared to wildlife back home it was amazing. But compared to what it had been when Attenborough had gone 53 years earlier it was already cheap beer.

As far as wildlife is concerned, my experience in Africa was unparalleled. I had never seen animals in such abundance anywhere else in the world. It was not even close. All kinds of animals. But today I want to concentrate on one of them—elephants.

Yet we learned there that elephants were facing tough times—they were under siege. A survey in 1979 estimated that there were about 1.3 million elephants left in the wild. It is thought that in 2013 when we were there some 34 years later those numbers had been reduced to about 500,000. Less than half were left!

The worst part of it is that elephants were facing increasing challenges to their existence. Things were not getting better in many places, they were getting worse. Even though Chobe National Park was one of the few places where elephants were thriving this is what Damian Carrington of The Guardian said about them and their prospects:



The forest elephants of Africa have lost almost two-thirds of their number in the past decade due to poaching for ivory…There are about 100,000 forest elephants remaining in the forests of central Africa, compared with 400,00 of the slightly larger savannah elephants. The total population was over 1 million 30 years ago, but has been devastated by poaching driven by the rising demand for ivory ornaments in Asia.   

What has made things worse for elephants is that they range over central Africa and that region had suffered greatly on account of wars and competition. Poachers in such regions had easy access to weapons, and enforcement officers that were distracted by wars raging around them. Loss of habitat was not the primary problem as it was for many other species that were endangered. Many of the forests were already empty of elephants. That demonstrated that was a poaching problem not a habitat degradation issue.

China in particular was a large part of the problem. Their craving for elephant tusks had driven the price up to more than $1,000 per kg. Just 3 years before I was in Africa, the price was $150 per kg. 90% of Kenyan ivory ended up in China. As Africans told the Chinese, ‘China does not need ivory, but Africa needs elephants.’

The poachers were usually part of criminal gangs. They can be violent and ruthless. The guards on whom the elephants depended for their survival were often harassed and feared for their lives.  One guard said that he had become part of the national psychosis.

What was really weird then was that elephants by then depended on their mortal enemy for their survival.  That was us by the way. We were their enemy.  We had driven them to the brink of extinction by our wanton, foolish desires, and yet without us they would likely not survive because some of our species were working hard to save them.  The world is not just crazy. It is much more whacky than that. It is weirder than we could conceive it to be.

These two were from Kruger National Park in South Africa.



This group of elephants were actually part of a much  larger group. They actually surrounded our safari vehicle. It was a bit disconcerting to be surrounded by such large animals.  It was an experience I will never forget.  the elephants were actually difficult to photograph because they were too close!

I don’t know about you, but I think a world without elephants would be a paltry thing. Yes we need a new attitude to elephants. We also need a new attitude to nature.

The Best of Times and the Worst of Times


When we were in Africa,  in 2013 we were stunned by the amount of wild life we saw. One of the best places was Chobe National Park in Botswana.  It seemed like around every corner every couple of minutes, there was more to see. When we travel from Manitoba to Arizona each winter we rarely see any. Yet when Europeans arrived on the North American continent there were more wild animals than in Africa! Where did they all go? You  know where they went.

Although the Holocene era was fantastic it was not all perfect. As Dickens said, about another era, they were the best of times, they were the worst of times. Really our times were better than the times of the French revolution the time he was referring to in his great novel A Tale of Two Cities. But life created by humans was far from unmixed forward progress. We created the atomic bomb.  Our actions led to the Great Depression. We conquered some diseases; we ushered in others. We created the holocaust where we killed 6 millions of our own species.

By 1954, when I was 6 years old the population of the world had increased to 2.7 billion, carbon in the atmosphere increased to 310 parts per million in the atmosphere, and the remaining wilderness around the world had shrunk to 64%. But few of us noticed things had already changed. Even less were concerned. After all, we were the lucky ones living in the Holocene. So we thought. Actually, we were wrong. Another epoch had begun, though the exact starting date is still not certain.

Our technologies were making life easier. And the pace of change was speeding up dramatically. Our ideas were bearing fruit. And it all seemed good. Though there were a few shadows on the horizon. One was shaped like a mushroom in the sky. The Holocaust was behind us. We were convinced it was an aberration. We had learned from it and progress would proceed unhindered. Lucky us. These were illusions. There were problems out there. Big ones. And they were real.

By 1960 the world population increased to 3 billion people.  Carbon in the atmosphere increased to 315 parts per million and the remaining wilderness shrunk to 62%.

A lot of those problems have been created by the immense pressure on the planet by so many people and so many of those people getting richer so they could afford to affect the planet more drastically.

As a result, people were not realizing that the traditional attitude to nature—that it was a resource for us to do with as we pleased was exactly the wrong attitude.  We need a new attitude to nature, and we need it fast.