As with any David Attenborough documentary, ‘Extinction: The Facts’ is essential viewing for any environmentalist. It is also a go-to for anyone learning more about biodiversity and extinction, which, based on the severity of the issues raised, should be everyone.
Visually, it’s all that could be desired, with stunning shots of animals in their natural habitats along with David himself, who hosts all manner of experts, including professors from Oxford, Cambridge and other prestigious institutions, directors of environmental organisations, and well-decorated economists.
The sheer scale of information delivered in this one hour programme is incredible.. The most important point is that we are on the brink of another mass extinction. According to UN experts, 1 million species (500,000 plants and animals, 500,000 insects) are at risk – 1/8 of current species in existence. Not only would this cripple biodiversity across the globe, but it would shatter ecosystems and food chains, affecting many more species as well as humans, particularly in the global south. Insects, for example, are crucial to ecosystems – 1/3 of the world’s food crops rely on pollination – therefore, the extinction of insect species threatens our own food supplies. Similarly, the fact that 25% of plant species are at risk of extinction has knock-on effects for air quality and water irrigation
Why are so many species going extinct? Well, this time it’s not a big asteroid or an ice age – it’s us. Illegal hunting and fishing are a looming threat. Take the pangolin, for example; the demand for their scales in Asia has culminated in the transportation of over 100 tonnes of the material from Africa to Asia in 2019 alone. This led to all 8 pangolins species being at risk of extinction. The northern white rhino is also facing extinction; the only surviving members of this species are a mother and daughter – when they die the northern white rhino will cease to exist. Illegal hunting threatens countless rare and incredible species.
Perhaps the most significant factor behind this impending mass extinction is the destruction of habitats for livestock and crop production. Every year, 3.8 million hectares of forest are cleared. The Amazon rainforest and other natural habitats have been decimated by the beef and soya industries; there are an estimated 200 million cattle in Brazil, with this beef being shipped around the world to meet global demands. What is most worrying is that we have enough cleared land already to sustain our current (and increasing) population, but for the meat and crop industries to operate sustainably this would mean limiting their profit margin, so another incentive aside from environmental goodwill is evidently needed.
But where do we go now to alter this horrific future? Primarily, we need to consider our own consumption – demand for year-round veg, beef, soy and other products drives land clearing, habitat loss and hunting – we need to consider where we’re getting things from, how much meat and dairy we’re eating and whether products we buy contain ingredients like palm oil. We also waste 40% of our food – excess food that we buy but don’t use drives demand up, which causes excess land clearing.
You often hear the statistic that 100 companies alone cause 71% of greenhouse gas emissions; in preventing mass extinction (as with climate change) we need to hold these corporations to account. Partly, this can be achieved as a result of mass lifestyle change; if we all live more sustainably then demand will decrease, especially in developed countries where consumption is much higher than other nations. What we also need is for governments to introduce legislation to incentivise companies to operate sustainably in their production of meat and crops, for example banning exports from companies who don’t meet certain sustainability tests.
All in all, Extinction: The Facts is a fantastic watch. It doesn’t sugar-coat the threat of mass extinction but is informative and motivating too. The stunning visuals and blunt words guide us through an unforgettable hour which should inspire (or reignite) your inner environmentalist – it certainly has with me.