Environment

To Prevent Species Extinction Due to Trump's Lack of Climate Action, Local Communities Must Step Up (Yes, This Means You)

The only way out of this mess is for communities to manage and protect their wild places and animals.

poison frog very poisonous animal with warning colors Phyllobates terribilis Colombia amazon rainforest toxic amphibian
Photo Credit: Dirk Ercken/Shutterstock

Over the last year, the world has tipped on its axis. I have been thankful that writing deadlines have loomed, giving me an excuse to focus elsewhere. It has granted me the space to collect my thoughts about the bigger political picture unfolding. Still, most days my subconscious has registered alarm at the news I have dared to open.  

The capsize of 2016 began with Brexit and slowly continued to the U.S. elections, placing Trump, along with PutinOrbanGruevskiErdogan and Le Pen, in the middle of all our lives. We now find ourselves adrift, with our boat overturned, clamoring for life jackets. 

Who is behind this shift? Noam Chomsky suggests that neoliberal economic policies in the U.S., U.K. and across Europe have fueled the rise of the far-right, and I agree. It is easier for people to blame refugees fleeing tyranny and poverty for their declining standard of living than admit the bigger economic system we live within—run by the unelected super rich—is the real driver for our collective woes. A conclusion echoed in the Bertelsmann Stiftung survey released a few weeks ago.

The accent of divisive politics has almost overshadowed other news, but events like species loss and extreme weather events continue to unfold. Celebrations of the Paris agreement coming into force were attempted, but no amount of spin could mitigate our collective depression the biggest power broker in the world had voted to remove itself from the deal. 

Some days ago, I opened the U.K. Independent to read John Wiens’ findings that plants and animals are already struggling to deal with the relatively small amount of global warming experienced so far. Wiens’ peer-reviewed paper, Climate-Related Local Extinctions Are Already Widespread Among Plant and Animal Speciesreports that almost half of the 716 different kinds of animals and 260 plants from Asia, Europe, North and South America, and elsewhere in Wiens’ study have local extinctions. These are not just the big flagship species. The study includes wheat, rice and corn. Scale this up to the billions of species around the world and his findings speak of localized annihilation of the diversity we need to survive.

The wealthy market economy powered by mines, monoculture plantations, timber consumption and industrialized fishing, left to manage itself in the Western world is the cause. 

So, as I settle in to begin my next book, both of these streams—species loss and the impact of neoliberalism—are consuming my thoughts. If the last six months have taught me anything, it is that we can no longer trust politics to be predictable. I am now deeply bonded to the idea the only way out of this mess is to empower local communities. Not through ultra-nationalist, xenophobic or knee-jerk reactions. Instead, we need genuine delegation to communities to manage and protect what surrounds them. 

I have imagined a future where the world is monetized and wildness is gone—a world where a tiger’s footprints are not seen in snowdrifts or the deep, pungent smell of elephant musth is not carried on the wind. Cranes no longer walk with grace across shallow pools of water. Ancient trees that have borne witness to hundreds of human generations no longer cast their welcome shadow. The twirling song of the red-headed mallimbe is only a silent echo across a wetland. The combined news of Wiens’ findings and the far-right politics of the past few months have brought this vision closer. 

We can change the course. Our boat has capsized, but it hasn’t sunk, yet. We can right it and sail in a new direction. This requires us to understand the system around us, to reject the spin and instead question what is behind the problems we face.

If we need inspiration we can listen to the people who have lived harmoniously for thousands of generations within the greatest tracts of biodiversity areas in the world. There are other ways in the world that might be better than our market driven solutions in the west. 

Last month, the Convention on Biological Diversity, a massive intergovernmental meeting, took place in Cancun, Mexico. Large government and non-government delegations hammered out the details of what to do next for forests, oceans, water, the right of indigenous communities and of course climate change with the full gamut of details each contains. While politics was in play, it was "politics lite." The decisions were be science-based and solid, but they will go nowhere if the world community doesn’t hold our elected governments to account. 

Cancun is gift to rally behind, by pushing governments to see the world with fresh, compassionate eyes—to deliver their Cancun promises, in defiance of the neoliberal fantasy.

Perhaps I am a dreamer, but I refuse to give up, because once dreams are gone, so are the wildlife I cherish. Then my catastrophic future becomes my present. We cannot allow that to happen. We can all demand a different future.

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Margi Prideaux is an international wildlife policy and law writer. Read her work at www.wildpolitics.co and follow her on Twitter @WildPolitics.