Category Archives: Environmental Apocalypse

This can be done




 Sunset at Peggy’s Cove

David Attenborough reminded us in his testament statement that

 “The living world is essentially solar powered. The world’s plants capture 3 trillion kilowatt hours of solar energy each day. Almost 20 times the energy we need just from sun light. Imagine if we phase out of fossil fuels and run our world on the eternal energy of the natural energy of the sun too.”

Of course, we could add wind and geothermal and other unlimited sources of energy. We could transform the world. For example, Morocco used to get all of its energy from foreign oil and gas and now it gets 40% of energy from internal natural renewable sources. It might be an exporter of energy to Europe by 2015. By 2015 renewables are predicted to be the main source of power.

However instead of changing with the times, our banks, our pension plans, our business leaders, and some of our governments, like Canada are investing Bigly in fossil fuels. Canada spent billions on a gas pipeline as it promised to get off fossil fuels.

Renewables are also a smart investment for many reasons. The energy will be more affordable. It will make our cities quieter and with cleaner air. We never have to worry about running out of sunlight and wind and heat from under the ground. Added to that, we won’t be subject to extortion from undemocratic dictators like Putin or sheiks from the Middle east when we rely on renewables obtained from inside our own borders. Currently air pollution is a major health consequence of our reliance on fossil fuels when there is a better way. We can avoid many of these problems if we switch our reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy. Yet we find that difficult.

We have to change our attitudes so that we can change our ways.

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.

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.


Breaking Loose


In the 1970s whales were being hunted near to extinction by fleets of industrial ships. So were some fish species.  When humans made a target of an animal, there was no place it could go to hide. Some photographers were showing films and photographs of whales being slaughtered.  They also played tapes of the sounds they made. People began to identify with whales even though they had been hunted relentlessly by people for centuries. People were starting to empathize with whales. How was that possible?


It was possible because the attitudes of humans to whales were changing. Many people did not like the slaughter. Sometimes the feelings for animals were merely sentimental. In other words, the concern for whales had not been earned. The feelings were often shallow. People were often quickly distracted by other concerns. But attitudes were still changing.


On the whole, in the 1970s people on earth, numbering about 4,000 million (or 4 billion) of us, had by and large “broken loose from the restrictions that govern other animals” as David Attenborough called it in his testament statement. We had considered ourselves separate and apart from the rest of life on the planet. We were the dominant species on the planet and we believed we had a divine right to dominate all other species as we saw fit without restraint. Many of us actually had divine sanction for our rule, just as whites once understood themselves to have divine sanction to own people with a different colour of skin. The insanity of both views was not visible to many people in the late 70s, but the number of people who did was quietly growing. Some people had a different attitude to nature.

By the late 1970s we had eliminated the predators who once stalked us except for a few in zoos or minute reserves. We had conquered many of the diseases that once ravished our numbers. We arranged for systems of food production and management that were marvels of industrialization. We were starting to house animals like chickens and pigs in industrial style farms where those animals were treated abominably. We broadcast chemicals into the air in a war on insects that we considered as pests interfering with out right to harvest life as we wished.

We thought we were entitled to all that by God’s law. He had given us dominion over the earth we thought and believed on the basis of ancient texts. We thought we could deal with the earth and the creatures on it as we pleased.

As David Attenborough said, “There really was nothing left to restrict us. Nothing to stop us unless we stopped ourselves. We would continue to consume the earth until we had used it up.” It was not enough to save species or even groups of species he said.

In other words, we really needed a new and different attitude to nature. We needed a more humble attitude to nature. We still do.


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.

A David Attenborough Witness statement


David Attenborough prepared a documentary film which I watched with great interest on PBS while I was in Arizona this year, that he called, A Life on this Planet. In that film he departed from his usual approach of demonstrating wonderful aspects of diverse life on our planet without editorial comments. This time he explored some of the same issues I had been exploring recently as part of what he called a witness statement—a personal statement about some of the issues that had been concerning him for quite some time and what he has learned over 93 years of an extraordinary life on this planet.  I wondered how his philosophy would diverge from mine.

The film started off showing a scene of him walking through a large abandoned building. I recognized it immediately. It was the town near the Russian nuclear facility at Chernobyl. The town was called Pripyat and it is now located in Ukraine.  This town was once a modern city of 50,000 people that was filled with all the modern conveniences when on April 26, 1986 the city was evacuated in 48 hours after a accident occurred at the nuclear facility that exploded nearby rendering the city of Pripyat a radioactive wasteland. According to Attenborough, the accident “happened as a result of bad planning and human error.”

No humans have lived there since that day now nearly 40 years ago, though animals never left or returned. Some called the accident the most expensive catastrophe in human history. But that is not true. As Attenborough said,

“Chernobyl was a single event, and the true catastrophe of our time was the global event barely noticeable from day to day and is still unfolding. I am talking about the loss of our biodiversity, the loss of wild life and wild places.”

David Attenborough knew as perhaps few on our planet knew, that the diversity of life on our planet is truly, magnificently, diverse. First, look at the life on the planet in numbers. There are billions of creatures and millions of planet species on our planet providing spectacular diversity, abundance, and variety of life on it. Then, according to Attenborough, we came to realize how those creatures “interlock.” I prefer the word “interconnect.” They work with each other to maintain great ecosystems. Sometimes organisms and creatures in those ecosystems compete, even to the death, with each other. But at other times, as we have now learned, thanks in part to a Canadian scientist and former forestry officer in British Columbia, Suzanne Simard, that contrary to Darwin’s theory of evolution, those creatures and organisms also cooperate with one another, even at times across species lines. This is a remarkable discovery that many are just beginning to understand how significant it is. I will comment on her discoveries in coming days.

As Attenborough said, this system of life on our planet provides a “finely tuned life support machine” for the creatures, organisms, and systems on it. That system of life in turn “relies on its biodiversity.” It relies on nature filled with biodiversity. We rely entirely on that support. Without it we cannot survive on this planet no matter how clever our technology is. It all depends on the support of nature and its vast diverse life. But unfortunately, humans who dominate the planet do not really appreciate this dependency. If they did, they would act differently than they do. As Attenborough said,

“Yet the way our humans live now, we are sending its biodiversity into decline. This too is happening as a result of bad planning and human error and it too will lead to what we see here.”

The film showed images of the abandoned city of Pripyat. No people are left living there now or even within a radius of 30 km. Older structures are decaying or falling into ruin. The structures are falling apart and the town has been largely abandoned.  Although Chernobyl is primarily a ghost town today, a small number of people still live there, in houses marked with signs that read, “Owner of this house lives here”, and a small number of animals live there as well. Animals have been returning. They do not understand the risks, but nature is coming back. Nature always come back, but it comes back different after catastrophes, particularly a catastrophe as drastic as this one. The town is overgrown with trees. Some apartments now have trees growing out of them. I saw a number of photographs taken by a Winnipeg photographer and fine arts professor from the site and they are amazing to behold.

One cannot help but wonder when looking at the images of the city whether or not this is in our future. After all, the doomsday clock has recently been moved to less than 2 minutes before midnight. Clearly, none of us want to live there. There is still too much radioactivity. Is this what the future holds for us—i.e. a world without humans? Now I recognize that some people would cheer this one, but they are still in the minority. Most of us do not want to get rid of humans just yet. But perhaps we are wrong.

The Canal System: the marvel of the desert


That canal system in time became the most elaborate and well-engineered in all of North America if not the world.  The Ancestral People cooperated to build and manage a vast canal system that diverted waters from the rivers to irrigate their croplands.  Because these croplands were located in land that was lower than the surrounding rivers the canals were started about 17 miles away to divert water by gravity flow. Where there were croplands without nearby rivers, they diverted storm run-off or tapped groundwater.

The canals were amazing. First of all, they were constructed entirely by human labor without any draft animals. The only tools they had were made of wood or stone. They had no shovels. The ground was true hard pan that made digging very difficult. The slope of canals was 2 ft. for 1 mile.  That is a very gentle slope, but it is more than enough to lead the water to where they wanted it. The canals were also surprisingly large. They were about as tall as a man.

This was very sophisticated agriculture. They farmed the area for about a thousand years. At its height the canals irrigated 1,900 acres of land. The canals stretched for 220 miles in this area alone. What amazed me was that these Ancestral People were extremely successful farmers. They produced higher yields than modern farmers with modern equipment and techniques. Modern Hohokam farmers see people as their main resource.

Following their ancestral heritage, they became what they call “scientists of our environment.”  Like other nations in the Americas, they used and continue to use meteorological principles to establish planting, harvesting, ceremonial cycles and they developed complex water storage and delivery systems.

I was also astonished to learn that there is evidence that the ancestral people were about 2-3 inches taller than the Europeans who arrived in the 17th century. Like the indigenous people of the Great Plains who relied principally on bison, that meant they were better fed than the Europeans who came here to civilize them! Perhaps the ancestral people ought to have civilized the Europeans! After all, the period of 300 to 1450 A.D. was the period of the Dark and Middle Ages in Europe.

When Father Keno was the first European to see this land in 1694, about 200 years after the Ancestral people of the Sonoran Desert left, he was struck by the beauty and ingenuity of the building. That is why he called the main structure that was left. Casa Grande (Great House) because he said he had never seen anything comparable in Europe.