Category Archives: Ecocide

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.


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.

A Long Think


Since I was born in 1948 animal populations have been reduced by more than one half. We have destroyed the wild world that was. Our species has done this. Perhaps Professor John Moriarty is right—we are like an Aids virus of the planet. It seems difficult to deny this. Our species has overrun the planet. We have a lot on our conscience. Whenever Huckleberry Finn had a serious thing to consider, like whether or not to continue floating down the Mississippi River deeper into the south, a place of great danger for his friend Jim, he said, this deserves “a long think.”

David Attenborough called the statement he made in his documentary film Our Planet, a witness statement. He wanted to summarize what he had seen and what the consequences were of what he had seen. That statement was a story of global decline during a single lifetime. His lifetime. It was a lifetime I have shared. I have experienced the same thing. I will summarize what he said.


Here is a photograph of a sunset, for a world turning from colour  to darkness.  I started this journey  to Arizona in 2023 wanting to explore two themes. The decline of western civilization and the decline of nature and the need for a new attitude to nature. This really is one story with 2 sides to the same page. Like 2 streams merging. It is not a happy story. It begs for us to make “a long think.”  That is what I want to do.

This story is not over. As David Attenborough said, “if we continue on our present course, then the damage that has been the defining feature of my lifetime will be eclipsed by the damage coming in the next.” In other words, though things were bad during my lifetime, they will be much worse during the lifetime of my granddaughter. Her world will be greatly impoverished compared to mine. And that is what we have left her.

In 2020 when this photo was taken, the world population reached 7.8 billion, the carbon in the atmosphere reached 415 parts per million, and the remaining wilderness was reduced to 35% of what it once was.

Extrapolating what David Attenborough said, science predicts that my granddaughter who was born 4 in  years ago is likely to witness the following:

In the 2030s, the Amazon rainforest will be degraded to such an extent that it won’t produce enough rain to remain a rain forest but instead will survive as a dry savannah. This will bring catastrophic species loss. This will seriously disrupt the global water cycle.  Not just in the Amazon, but around the world. The Arctic will become ice free in the summer. The speed of global warming will increase as a result because less of the sunlight will be reflected back into space when all that white snow and ice disappears. This will create a global feedback loop.

In the 2040s frozen soils will collapse and release vast amounts of frozen methane. It is a greenhouse gas that is much more potent than CO2.  Of course, this will dramatically increase the rate of climate change—another feedback loop that we will have created.

In the 2050s as the oceans continue to heat up and get more acidic, coral reefs where 25% of the oceans’ marine life now lives, will die, causing immense loss of that marine life. Ocean populations will crash.

In the 2080s, when my granddaughter will reach my lofty age, soils will become exhausted, if they will not have been exhausted before then, and food production will plummet, even though populations will have risen dramatically. What kind of political upheavals will that create? Pollinating insects will disappear, again drastically reducing food production. The weather will become more and more extreme.

In the 2100s the planet will become 4ºC warmer, rendering large parts of the earth uninhabitable. Hundreds of millions of people, perhaps more, will be rendered homeless. Where will all those climate refugees go? What struggles will they encounter with people who don’t want to let them in? What havoc will they bring in their wake? What will life be like on the planet then?

It is likely that a 6th mass extinction event has already started. And this time, unlike the first 5 of such events, the cause will be us.  We will be the producers of that massacre of life on the planet.

As David Attenborough said, “Within the span of the next lifetime, the security and stability of the Holocene, our Garden of Eden, will be lost.” 

That is the lifetime my granddaughter can look forward to. And she can thank me, and my generation for what we have done. Imagine that. I can’t!

We can’t let this happen. We need to make a long think!

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?


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.

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.

My Buddy David Boyd knows the score


A few years ago, I listened to a lecture by David Boyd at the University of Manitoba Law School’s Robson Hall.  Boyd is the writer of some excellent books on environmental law and policy.  After that lecture I was talking to him and he mentioned he needed a ride to his hotel so I offered him a ride. We had an interesting chat on . I mentioned to him how much I enjoyed his books. So, I call him “my buddy” even though we only met once.

Recently he has been appointed special rapporteur on human rights and the environment by the UN. According to the Guardian, as part of his new job he has warned of the creation of pollution “sacrifice zones across the world where tens of millions of people are suffering needlessly from strokes, cancers, respiratory problems, and heart disease as a result of toxic contamination of the environment.  Nature is fighting back to the onslaughts inflicted upon us by humans.  There is a war against nature which humans seem to be winning, but I am reminded as the saying goes, that “nature always bats last.” As The Guardian said,  “Nature can strike back at repetitive injuries foisted upon it.”

Boyd also mentioned physical health issues, including cancer, heart disease, respiratory illness, strokes, and reproductive health problems as well as “incredible mental health problems associated with living in these places because people feel exploited, they feel stigmatized.”

Boyd pointed the finger at modern businesses in particular as culprits in this nasty war. He called them “the main culprit, with most willing to overlook social and environmental costs in favour of their bottom line.”

This compliments my claims that capitalism, in many respects is predatory. In fact, I would say, capitalism, or the modern economic system really, is a serial predator. At least is it is left unharnessed.


Humans are Sleep walking towards the edge of a cliff


It doesn’t take much thought to realize that nature is the basis of all life on the planet. And everything we have constructed is built out of the building blocks of nature. Without nature we are done.

Yet there is little evidence that we understand that. Our actions indicate that we do not understand this simple fact or we just don’t care. Either way it is clear that we are dismally ignorant.

Our current attitude to nature stinks. That’s why we urgently need a new one.

In recent years the World Wildlife Fund (‘WWF’) has reported on the astonishing effect that our species has had on all other species. As reported by Damian Harrington of The Guardian, recent study by the WWF reached this uncomfortable conclusion:

“Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation.”

Let that statement sink in please. In other words, since Chris and I met in 1970 humanity has wiped out more than half of all mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles.[1] That conclusion was reached in a major report produced by the WWF and 59 scientists from around the world. They also say the cause is the enormous and growing massacre of wildlife as a result of humans expanding consumption of food and resources that is destroying the web of life that nature took millions of years to produce. We are destroying “the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else. We are destroying what we most need!  As Mike Barrett the executive Director of science and conservation at WWF said,

We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff. If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done. This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is he said…This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is our life-support system.”

It is astonishing that we are  doing this. But we are.  We could do something about this, but we have chosen to ignore it. This reminds me of the people at Easter Island that kept cutting the trees on their island which they desperately needed for their survival until the trees were all gone. They actually did that. Is that what we are doing on a planetary scale? It sure looks like it. How can we deny that our society is declining? Is it surprising that I call my current tour “the Grand Finale Tour”?

 To say that we need a new attitude to nature seems hopelessly understated.

[1] I should mention that the numbers are little more subtle and not quite as grim than this suggests as Ed Yong demonstrated in a fascinating article for The Atlantic in Oct. 31, 2018

Insects are important pollinators


One of my first bosses,  Al Boily, my supervisor at Manitoba Hydro where I worked while going to university  taught me two very important lessons. First, he taught me how to work. The said the company paid us fairly so we had to work hard to earn that money. Until then, I thought money should fall into my laps just because I was a nice guy. I was as lazy as grass and needed to learn that lesson.

Secondly he taught me that ‘what is bad for insects is bad for people too.’ He was referring to the Vapona No-Pest Strips that caught flying insects on sticky paper and killed them. I thought they were great. I hated biting insects. He taught me differently. Again, a valuable lesson.

I realize that a lot of people have no sympathy for insects. Insects be damned is their attitude. Who cares about insects? Does that really make sense.

Without insects most foods could not grow. How would we survive without foods? Yet many farmers, and citizens too, believe we ought to be destroying as many insects as possible. I know I feel that every time I venture out into the forest or bog on years in which mosquitoes are in abundance. I must remember—as must you—that insects are vital to our food chain. About two thirds of foods require insect pollinators.

We already have a serious problem producing or harvesting enough food to feed the people on the planet/ Do we let 2/3 of them disappear?  Is that a rational solution?

Notwithstanding that, most people and many farmers believe pesticide use is essential for feeding the growing human population. As George Monbiot reported in The Guardian:

“A recent study in Nature Plants reveals that most farms would increase production if they cut their use of pesticides. A study in the journal Arthropod-Plant Interactions shows that the more neonicotinoid pesticides were used to treat rapeseed crops, the more their yield declines. Why? Because the pesticides harm or kill the pollinators on which the crop depends.”


Why are so many people so wrong about insects?  Monbiot explains that this way:

“Farmers and governments have been comprehensively conned by the global pesticide industry. It has ensured its products should not be properly regulated or even, in real-world conditions, properly assessed. A massive media onslaught by this industry has bamboozled us all about its utility and its impacts on the health of both human beings and the natural world.

The profits of these companies depend on ecocide. Do we allow them to hold the world to ransom, or do we acknowledge that the survival of the living world is more important than returns to their shareholders? At the moment, shareholder value comes first. And it will count for nothing when we have lost the living systems on which our survival depends.”


We should not allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by the pesticide industry. After all, our lives depend on it!

We have declared war on nature. Insects in particular. It is an ugly unjustified war that is leading to our own destruction. As the Indigo Girls said, “we are gluttons for our doom.” That is most unwise. Here is what Monbiot says we should be doing instead:

“To save ourselves and the rest of the living world, here’s what we need to do:

1 We need a global treaty to regulate pesticides, and put the manufacturers back in their box.

2 We need environmental impact assessments for the farming and fishing industries. It is amazing that, while these sectors present the greatest threats to the living world, they are, uniquely in many nations, not subject to such oversight.

3 We need firm rules based on the outcomes of these assessments, obliging those who use the land to protect and restore the ecosystems on which we all depend.

4 We need to reduce the amount of land used by farming, while sustaining the production of food. The most obvious way is greatly to reduce our use of livestock: many of the crops we grow and all of the grazing land we use are deployed to feed them. One study in Britain suggests that, if we stopped using animal products, everyone in Britain could be fed on just 3m of our 18.5m hectares of current farmland (or on 7m hectares if all our farming were organic). This would allow us to create huge wildlife and soil refuges: an investment against a terrifying future.

5 We should stop using land that should be growing food for people to grow maize for biogas and fuel for cars.”

I admit I would have a problem going vegetarian or vegan. I like my burgers.

This is the problem. Humans have declared war on nature, particularly insects,  on the false basis that this is needed to feed the world. This is a crucial mistake. It is time for us to smarten up. We need nature. Even insects! We need to change our attitude to insects. If we don’t give them respite from our assaults we probably won’t get through this century. And in the meantime we will make life here very difficult and dreary.