David Forjan, a devout Christian, has been bombarding me with emails about the world extinction crisis, as God’s creatures are being laid waste by “the capitalistic materialistic bullshit.” We’ve lost 25 percent of wild bumblebees worldwide in the last 25 years, he tells me. There is a tone of horror in his dispatches, mixed with shame and sorrow and disbelief.
Forjan is a citizen journalist, the creative director and driving force behind Animal News Hour. Before that, he worked for many years at IBM. His final job for the company was in sales in the 1980s, when he was tasked with getting people to buy computers. “I was at 590 Madison Avenue, at IBM’s sales mecca,” he told me. “Cold-calling. I was in charge of new business. I was trying to convince people who didn’t have computers that they needed them. I was amazed at how much lying and deception was involved. I played the game. One time I won a sales competition, and it was all based on deceit and I felt so dirty, and everyone applauded. That’s the moment, when my fellow employees and the managers were applauding me for deceit, that I had had enough. The only thing IBM cared about was selling more computers.”
And Forjan is a refugee from a mad system. In 1999, he went to live in a remote cabin in upstate New York. He told me, “I could have had tenure with IBM, the benefits, but I didn’t want to wait. And when I got rid of it all, when I said no to everything I’d known, when I lived with the critters and I learned to love them, when I went back to the land, I knew the goal was to be self-sufficient. To be small, and to be part of the cycle of life that happens in every season, year after year. It was astounding. Billions of years to evolve such magnificent creations, now being decimated by humans in the blink of an eye, with no regard for beauty or life itself.”
In a time of extreme peril for the non-humans on Earth we need more folks like Forjan, who provided me a year-end litany of the ongoing sixth great extinction. There are five such previous extinctions in the fossil record, extending back hundreds of millions of years. This one is entirely human-caused, the result of industrial effluent and overpopulation, our warming of the atmosphere and the oceans, polluting of the water, overhunting of the predators and the prey, felling of the trees, ruining of the grasslands with cows: our greed and stupidity, our grasping always for more on a planet of limited resources.
The destruction of non-human animals has occurred in a very short time span, testament to the pace of industrial civilization’s exponential growth. In the five decades since 1970, some 60 percent of vertebrate populations have disappeared. We’re not talking about the species here: This is a drop in total abundance. Similarly, land animals worldwide are roughly 50 percent less abundant than 40 years ago. Fifty-one percent of sea animal populations died off in that same period. Seabird populations are down by 230 million from 60 years ago—a 70 percent drop in less than one human lifespan. In Great Britain, the number of butterflies has declined by 76 percent in the last 40 years. Giraffes have seen a 38 percent decline in their numbers since 1985, falling from 157,000 to 97,500 today. Sixty percent of the world’s biggest mammal species are now threatened with extinction. At least 65 percent of Earth’s land surface has crossed the boundary for risk of biodiversity collapse. Habitat loss threatens more than 90 percent of migratory birds. One third of the world’s cactus species and an estimated 40 percent of amphibians are threatened with extinction. Coral reefs are dying en masse: The Great Barrier Reef is already 25 percent dead.
And on and on. There were 10 million elephants at the turn of the 20th century. A hundred years later, as few as 250,000 remain. There were 100,000 cheetahs in the wild a hundred years ago: 7,100 remain. There are 47 red wolves left in North Carolina, less than 97 Mexican gray wolves in the southwestern U.S., and only three northern white rhinos remaining on the planet.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently tracks about 85,000 of the planet’s estimated 2 million species, and of that share, 24,000 are threatened with extinction.
I asked Forjan why we should care. He shot back in an email: “Because we are responsible for the killing; because all animals have an inherent right to be let live; because we’re the smarter animal and know better; because it’s better to value life rather than condoning death; because not caring is bad; because God loves all the animals and we should respect that; because our conscience knows it’s right to care.”