Island Voices: Narcissism is our greatest problem, not wild animals

Read the comments coming out of a recent Capital Regional District directors’ meeting and you’d be left thinking we were living in an earlier century, when wild animals occupied the vast majority of the planet’s biomass, and we humans and our domesticated animals a tiny fraction.

But no, it’s here, Greater Victoria, in 2019. Are we to accept that marauding bears are hunting us, the deer population poses a pandemic, and grey squirrels and geese are eating us into a state of famine?

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The fact is that we as a species have consumed the Earth’s resources and killed our way through whatever stands in our path to such an extent that wild animals are now the ones that constitute a tiny fraction of the Earth’s biomass, compared with the domesticated animals we raise and kill for food.

We and our livestock make up 96 per cent of all the mammals on Earth. Seventy per cent of all birds on the planet are chickens and other birds we raise and kill for human consumption. Wild birds? They’re down to 30 per cent. Wild mammals? They now make up only four per cent of all the Earth’s mammals.

And still we want to keep on killing them.

Have any of the directors clamouring for a “final solution” paused to consider the big picture here? Our ecosystem is at a point of existential crisis, which means we are, too.

The way we got to this point was precisely by making human interests and appetites sacrosanct, by putting our interests and wants and needs ahead of all consideration for the world around us and the other species with whom we share it.

Our thoroughly narcissistic way of responding to the conflicts we as a species create through our own activities is bringing the planet and its remaining species to the brink of extinction. Human actions have launched the planet on a grim trajectory: The sixth mass extinction of life on Earth.

The words of some CRD directors bring to mind an episode that took place in the city of Surat in India in 1997. City officials, determined to kill their way out of a conflict with another species of free-living animal — street dogs — arranged for the slaughter of thousands of the city’s canines.

Ignorant of the role the street dogs played in the area’s ecosystem, those officials were soon faced with a much more serious problem: an outbreak of bubonic plague. The local habitat supported a certain number of free-living scavengers. When the dogs were killed and the habitat vacated, the rat population exploded and plague set in. Scores of people died. A mass exodus from the city ensued.

What happened in Surat is an example, on a smaller scale, of the kind of unintended consequences inexorably unleashed by actions that violate life. Comparable actions, on the larger arena, of extinguishing all that gets in the way of our pursuit of plenty have triggered a plague of a different sort: The looming threat of our own extinction. Is it not high time to consider a different approach?

No one denies that co-existence with other species raises challenges. We have a choice, though, of how to respond to those challenges. We now have more than enough information to understand that the well-being of other species is inextricably connected to our own. As such, how to proceed?

First and foremost, killing must be taken off the table as an option when conflict arises between human interests and those of wildlife. What’s required is a shift in consciousness.

We need to stop treating everything that’s not human as if it’s inconsequential and can be sacrificed on the altar of human self-indulgence with impunity. It can’t. We know that now. Mother Nature will come to collect on every debt we’ve incurred against her.

Something interesting happens when people are forced to come up with alternative solutions. Constrained to co-exist, we suddenly find ourselves more creative, resourceful, and even compassionate.

By living in keeping with actions that affirm life, we not only accord value to the lives of the creatures with whom we share the city, we might just be saving our own.

Lisa Warden, PhD, is a communications consultant and independent scholar affiliated with the Animals and Society Research Initiative at the University of Victoria.

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