Mass Extinction

‘British study covering last 40 years points to worldwide mass extinction of wildlife and plants.’ Guardian newspaper, UK, March 19th, 2004

The lesson and the warning are there for all to see. Britain, by virtue of its well-known and well-studied biodiversity, is the canary for the rest of the globe.” Sandra Knapp, Botanist, Natural Hisotry Museum, London, UK

‘Scientists have produced the first comprehensive evidence that the diversity of butterflies, birds and plants is in decline in the UK. They say their research supports the argument that mass extinction threatens life on earth.’ The Guardian newspaper, UK, 2004

This adds enormous strength to the hypotheis that the world is approaching its sixth major extinction event. The others appear to have been cosmic events, either from outer space coming in or some major perturbation – volcanoes, whatever – within the Earth. So they are believed to be physical events. You could say this latest one is an organic event: that one form of life has become so dominant on Earth that through its over-exploitation and its wastes, it eats, destroys, or poisons the others…We are going to lose a lot of species, there is no doubt about that. It is accelerating, this decline, for a lot of species and we are going to lose more than we have lost in the last 20 years. And it is just going to go on and on…” Jeremy Thomas, Leader, study of butterfly populations, Natural Environment Research Council, UK

‘...I can see no limit to the amount of change, to the beauty and infinite complexity of the coadaptations between all organic beings, one with another and with their physical conditions of life.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘In the past 20 years, according to a study in the US journal Science today, about 70% of all butterfly species in Britain have shown signs of decline. About 28% of plant species and 54% of bird species also declined in areas studied over long periods. The finding comes from government-funded scientists using data painstakingly amassed over the past 40 years by 20,000 skilled naturalists’. Tim Radford, Science Editor, The Guardian newspaper, 2004

‘I’m truy sorry man’s dominion/ Has broken Nature’s social union,/ An justifies that ill opinion,/ which makes thee startle/ At me, they poor, earth-born companion,/ An fellow-mortal!’ To A Mouse, Robert Burns

‘…it's possible that many undiscovered species will die out before we even know of their existence…Habitat destruction is the single most important danger to wildlife. Habitat loss is harmful not only to a single kind of animal or plant but to entire ecological communities. There are few parts of the world that have not been altered, damaged or destroyed. Modern technology speeds up the process of habitat destruction. Serious damage can be done in a tiny proportion of the time that it would have taken in the past. By the year 2032, more than 70% of the Earth's land surface is likely to be destroyed, fragmented or disturbed by cities, roads, mines and other infrastructure of human civilisation (the present level is about 50%).’ BBC, 2006

Mass Extinction

Creation of darkness, where there was light,

translated by the Word into holy script, life;

ecstatic chemistries of the tiger, kingfisher,

human hand holding another - wiring love

from the beating heart adapted from a rose;

even the industrious dung beetle rolling on

his humble brown globes, such utilisation,

symbiosis - a working miracle in Nature’s

bulging, bound portfolio of wonders, accumulated,

worked and painted over four billion creative years;

from the first gasping moments among stars,

explosion of energy, expansion, dimension -

pilot light for every creature - blade of grass,

that would come endlessly; there was no end

written in the script of species - where one died

the codes would remember, go onward with life,

make new animals, hybrids, flowers - among

elements freshened by vigorous supply of life;

fulfilment of blood, sap, bone and skeleton;

green force that colonised all possible space.

Until a new word spawned in early darkness,

whispering Omega – as imposter, man-made

android concept making real all these endings.

What happens to a world that kills butterflies,

annihilates the tiger, threatens the King of Beasts;

and a million shuffling, snuffling, rustling things

that had no name but what God calls them,

counting each on their return from dust –

each mattered in its way; was part - alive 

as Man. What happens to a world webbed

as one structure - in all dimensions further

than the visible - when threads are severed,

frayed and cut before the rightful withering

through time; how much damage can such

system take, before the man weeping over

one last spotted orchid is proved correct –

the orchid is as a beautiful sculpted dagger

speared in the breast of man; its early death

is photographed by life, logging another loss –

unnecessary, vulgar, unredemptive, irretrievable;

in place of a flower we have planted shadow;

anti-seed - and from shadow will spawn more

darkness; creeping, crawling - as life came

from light and water, organic understanding

of love and chemistry. What force may breed

among such lack of colours - mass, solidity -

in this chalked space in empty blue air

where an eagle should have screamed –

where the snow of a Polar Bear is melted,

and the burning steps of the tiger dowsed.

What shade the sea where sick silver fish

have left - like dead moonbeams slipping

into daylight, and metals take their place.

What black eye at the keyhole of the ape;

what sound now in the choral dominion of the Word,

tolling into space - among deaf stars, tears twinkling.

‘What we've lost, what we have left and what we will lose if we don't act now. That is the message that the latest global maps of the planet's last intact forests and most vulnerable ocean areas tell us. The maps were launched at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as government delegates begin negotiating how to stop the world's plants and animals from disappearing forever. The CBD has set itself the goal of significantly reducing the number of plants and animals becoming extinct by 2010 for life on land and 2012 for ocean life. It is an ambitious target given that they have barely started the work after 14 years of painfully slow negotiations between the more than 180 counties who have signed the convention. Our latest maps show that implementing a global network of large protected areas, which are required to stop the slide towards extinction for many plants and animals can be achieved now. The map of the remaining intact forest areas was created using the latest satellite images and is the most up-to-date map of its kind. The map of the oceans uses the latest research to determine the areas of the ocean in most need of protection. If the global network of protected areas isn't implemented, within 20 years, a huge portion of the planet's plants and animals will be lost forever. There has never been a more urgent need for action.’ Greenpeace Global Snapshot, 21 March, 2006

‘And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, and upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.' Genesis 9, The Bible

‘Report highlights the plight of British Butterflies - "The State of Britain's Butterflies" draws out the key results and conservation implications of the Atlas, highlighting the continuing decline of UK Biodiversity Action Plan butterflies. It also stresses the role for butterflies as indicators of the health of the countryside. ..One key finding of the report is that, on the basis of distribution declines, 10 further species should be considered for inclusion in the Biodiversity Action Plan or have their priority level increased. The Wood White, Brown Hairstreak, Small Blue, Duke of Burgundy, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Large Heath all now meet the decline criteria for Priority Species status. ..More surprisingly, the Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper, Dark Green Fritillary and Grayling also now meet the Priority Species criteria, despite none being included in the national Biodiversity Action Plan at present.’ Butterfly Conservation, 2007

‘‘Many moths are declining. 53 of the rarest and most rapidly declining moth species were included in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, and many additional species now qualify for inclusion. Recent research suggests that two thirds of common moth species are in decline.’ Butterfly Conservation, 2007

‘In many a garden I have stood thus in later years…but never have I waited with such a keen desire as before those darkening lilacs. And suddenly it would come, the low buzz passing from flower to flower, the vibrational halo around the streamlined body of an olive and pink hummingbird moth poised in the air above the corolla into which it had dipped its long tongue…Thus every hour and season had its delights.’ Vladimir Nabokov, autobiography, Speak, Memory, Penguin Books, 1969

‘…naturalists now think that extinction rates are at least 100 times greater than the natural ‘background’ rate because of pollution, habitat destruction, hunting, agriculture, global warming and population growth… Dr Thomas and his colleagues analysed six surveys of almost all of Britain’s native plant, bird and butterfly populations in the past 40 years in 10km grid squares. One third of plant, bird and butterlfy species have disappeared from one of the squares they occupied 20 or 40 years ago. About 70% of butterflies show some decline and two species have become extinct.’ Guardian newspaper, 2004

The Magnificent Seven - Britain's seven blue butterflies need our help …. there are seven blue butterflies in the UK, all of which are threatened by habitat loss and changes to their environment. The Silver-studded Blue has suffered serious decline over the last ten years, but can react quickly to restoration work on its heathland habitat. A gift of £200 will pay for a training workshop where landowners learn to manage their sites for this beautiful butterfly. The Small Blue is our smallest butterfly and is in serious decline, having been lost from both Northern Ireland and Scotland in the last decade. However, it is responding well to conservation work on brownfield sites. A donation of £25 will buy Kidney Vetch plants, the food for Small Blue caterpillars.’ Butterfly Conservation, 2007

One of the Last Blue Butterflies

What does it matter if you are the last -

luminously blue, symmetrical sky-cut;

curly-tongued - curiously ugly in the middle,

mini troll-bug with stained-glass angel wings;

anxious in my palm - a strange pink flower,

thick sugarless petals with drumming blood,

so weirdly warm; wondering with antennae

just where the hell you must have landed -

if I were to crush you into shimmering blue

dust right now, how would the world be less?

Would your few blue brothers and sisters

miss you - or even notice you were gone?

Would air mourn fluttering silver paths lost -

where you, your children, would have flown;

flowers swallow undrunk nectar in a toast

to bygone beauty, absent friends, species -

would my life be less rich - would it matter

one jot. For answer, you merely flutter blue

tissue, taken a billion brilliant years to weave,

concentrate that colour from mud molecules -

one might as well try to prove why art matters,

when there is no proof, even, that love exists -

as you launch over yellow broom, gorse flames;

just being blue, alive on the dour moor, matters.

‘Facts and figures- An area of unspoilt land larger than North America is likely to be damaged by human activity in the next 30 years. The spread of human activity threatens a quarter of the world's mammals with extinction. Logging affects approximately 14-17% of endangered species, grazing affects 19-22%, water development affects 29-33%, recreation affects 23-26%, and mining impacts on 14-21%. Habitat destruction from human activity is the primary cause of risk for 83% of endangered plant species. For migrant bird populations, a decline of close to 40% is directly linked to habitat destruction. For amphibians, declining populations are linked to habitat destruction, introduction of exotic species, water pollution and ozone depletion. Habitat destruction was also a contributing factor in the extinction of at least 73% of freshwater fish in North America and the leading threat to fish species considered threatened, endangered or of special concern.’ BBC, 2006

‘Global warming is turning up the temperature beyond acceptable levels. Species capable of moving fast enough will likely attempt to find a more suitable environment; however, many other species will either be unable to move or will have nowhere to go. Higher temperatures are impacting temperature-dependent species like fish, causing their distribution to change. Some terrestrial species have already invaded higher altitude habitats, but it is expected that many will simply disappear from their current habitats. Increased temperatures and reduced rainfall in some areas may also reduce suitable habitat during dry, warm months and potentially lead to an increase in invasive, exotic species, which then can out-compete native species.’ WWF, 2006

‘Five years on from the previous report, this new assessment confirms that Britain’s butterflies are in rapid decline. Since the 1970s, the Large Blue has become extinct in Britian, and distribution data show that three quarters (76%) of the remaining resident species have declined. Six of these have lost >50% of their distribution. A further 15 have suffered distribution decreases of >30%, including formerly widespread butterflies sch as the Dingy Skipper, Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary, Wall and Grayling. Population data show that 54% of monitored species are less abundant at transect sites compared to the 1970s. The Marsh Fritillary and Heath Fritillary have the greatest long-term population declines, and there are worrying 10-year trends for the High Brown Fritillary, Silver-Studded Blue and Duke of Burgundy. Habitat specialist butterflies (those that inhabit flower-rich grasslands, woodland clearings, heaths, dunes and bogs) have fared the worst, with 93% of species in decline and an overall drop in abundance of 30%.’ The State of Britain’s Butterflies, Butterfly Conservation, 2007

Earth is laying down her creatures

Earth is laying down her creatures, so tenderly

they exit - like polite theatre people silently go

without a fuss; the last still living as if there

could not be an end - as if everything’s OK.

What funeral could there be for a butterfly

that will never be; flying swatch of beauty

painted for a billion years, her presence stolen

from emptying air - the White Cabbage flash

on a summer’s day is the ghost of her colour.

What memorial to the angelic little skeletons

of starved birds dying even before winter;

what ceremony, full state funeral - ritual

to honour the last tiger; what dignatories

would be present, wringing their hands -

asking how we could have let it happen,

and the dead a-dancing with tiger rugs

in their arms, drying orange glass eyes;

understanding now how crimes against

Creation will never go unnoticed,

be forgotten. What sorrow, regret,

attends the death of one solitary orchid

in a changed place where she has lived

so gently for a million striving years;

as she folds up her last evening head

like the folding of a military flag –

Creation’s colours that were flown

here and are no more. What marks the graves

of a thousand species burning with the forest,

before they even had a name - which were full

of evolution’s cleverness and grace; expression,

magnitude, splendour in the smallest spider,

medicinal green or furry jumping something.

Who will sing hymns for us when we are gone;

slow suicides who took everybody with them -

Earth’s rivers and mountains will be our headstone,

our common grave - wind our pibroch, our epitaph;

the Word of creation will rise,

communal spirit, white bird -

go flying, calling through space;

whispering on among dead stars.

‘Biological diversity - or biodiversity - is the term given to total variety and complexity and interactions of all life on Earth. The biodiversity we see today is the result of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and, increasingly, by the influence of humans. It forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend. In the last 50 years we have lost 300,000 species. Species are disappearing between 100 and 1,000 times as fast as they were before humans arrived. One in four mammal species and one in eight bird species face a high risk of extinction in the near future and the population of each species is expected to fall by at least a fifth in the next 10 years.’ BBC, 2006

‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’ Genesis 1, The Bible

‘There is broad agreement that biodiversity should be maintained; it is the subject of international political agreements. Yet we simply do not know how much diversity we have, let alone how much is sufficient. Assessment of genetic variability can provide one measure of biodiversity. Ecologists using genomic tools can start to describe the evolutionary tree of life. They can also address previously intractable questions about the origins and maintenance of biodiversity. For instance, genetic data could help distinguish whether the tropical areas are more diverse than temperate zones as a result of evolutionary history, or whether the variation is due to ecological factors such as primary productivity. Genomics thus helps resolve biodiversity debates and influences conservation policy. By looking back at DNA in preserved specimens of ancient animals and plants, it is possible toget some idea of how biodiversity has changed over time, particularly with respect to times when drastically different global climates would have restricted the genetic diversity.’ Demystifying Genomics, Medical Research Council, UK 

Destruction of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is organic reflection of the original explosion -

diverse species spiralling from the core; sky-bomb, sky-seed

of life - response to perturbation in the heavens, energy released;

stored in bright molecules to become anything, but became tiger,

hummingbird, snow crystals building to a white bear at the end

of the world - the fish in my stomach that I was, my green hand

yet young in the music of the world, orchestrating movement,

nails and skin. But the paw of the Lemur disappearing, is part

of interference with the work, she matters in her kohl’d eyes;

the rings of her tail are married to the total story of the world,

which is onward, survival; genetic messages preserving

the past - making the future from genomic tools - script

written to the last bone; stem cells capable of anything.

Erasure - smashing of the glass pane of one dragonfly

is unalterable deletion; no passing of scripts possible -

death that was temporary has dominion there over life,

that air where her children’s wings should have flown;

her crashing to earth, starvation, poisoning, will affect

the whole oxygen forever. The outward-moving spiral

of incremental species is losing its connections, shape,

deteriorating into some lesser plan, diminished pattern;

crashing citadels of original features - crippled, uneasy.

For now the spaces still green, or burned into barren ash,

dessicated to dust - stripped to the rocky exposed bones -

still rippling with spirit, recent arrivals - and departures

that should have been anchored, at home, here on Earth;

that shining visible in the eye, each creature’s exploration

of evolution’s magic endless formula, dances bewildered -

mistaken for light glancing off water or a stone surface;

but still nurturing stubborn lichen - in hope of a garden.

‘And though the spirit fain would soar,/ Yet suff’ring nature could deplore,/ That ‘to be born seem’d little more/ Than to begin to die.’ Sarah Hoare, 1777-1856, Poems on Conchology and Botany

‘A hedgehog’s penis accounts for 10% of its bodyweight – imagine ladies. Enough to make any Mrs Tiggy-Winkle forget the 1000 fleas and 7000 prickles the Big Boy Hogs also claim, so the species should be thriving. But hedgehogs are dying out, with numbers halved in some areas and the overall population down a catastrophic 30% since 1991. With perhaps less than a million left, hedgehogs could disappear within a generation… A more suitable campaign is required than the current use of hedgehogs in a road safety campaign about crossing the road – rolling up in a ball when a car comes does not set a good example… And what about some serious muscle in law for dealing with companies. McDonalds was warned two years ago that hedgehogs were getting stuck in discarded McSlurry ice-cream tubs – 15 recently in South Queensferry alone.  Able to get their heads in but not out, they starve to death, though that might be in preference to eating anything left in the bottom. Why wasn’t McDonalds charged with hedgehog murder? The company has, however, announced a U-turn – clearly something hedgehogs aren’t capable of – and will now test hedgehog-friendly packaging.’ Gillian Ferguson, column, Scotsman newspaper

‘And the increasing probability of environmental disaster has been well attested for at least the last thirty years. During all that while, every time that the travellers in steerage pointed out that the ship was sinking, the first-class passengers have continued to reply placidly, ‘Not at our end’. Only very gradually and shakily is this prospect beginning to be admitted as an influence on policy … Only gradually is it beginning to emerge that ecology is actually a more important science than economics – that the profitable exchange of goods within the ship is a less urgent matter than how to keep the whole ship above water. When the story of our age comes to be written, this perspective may surely seem surprising.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

‘Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/ In the forests of the night,/ What immortal hand or eye/ Could frame thy fearful symmetry.’ The Tyger, William Blake, 1757-1827 -check

‘A Siberian tiger, one of the many species that will become extinct if a global network of protected areas isn’t created. Greenpeace Global snapshot, 21 March 2006

Burning fire and coal leopard

Burning beauty, fire and coals,

a she-leopard in trees appears -

muscle-hunched, bone wings creeping,

slinkily catwalks along, demonstrating

the living high art of Natural Selection -

her evolved haute couture fur, gorgeous

even to the hard-to-impress old Universe,

accustomed to endless sparkling galaxies

of show-off winter stars - God letting

off celestial fireworks for the hell of it,

when it’s all too good or bad;

when the darkness is too big.

She scalds the world’s eyes; feel

that involuntary intake of breath,

whether human or admiring lake,

mountain under gulping snow –

present in that space, a living masterwork,

and the environment bends to worship -

hot gold dust rising, startled leaves blinking

silver and green; sky looks as if it might cry,

Sun terribly in love, pouring passion

generously on each hair; rubbing her

flank, flame-halo, dancing down her ribs,

ecstatic about every shade, gloss surface.

I can feel the burning of her gorgeous fur

right here in Edinburgh - such occurrence

cannot go unmarked; she disturbs atoms,

moves the poorly understood molecules

of the world in unknown currents of wonder;

energy crackles merely from her being alive,

such consummation of Evolution - achievement -

she is glorious, lit there for everyone, everywhere;

fuzzy paw-plate poised on trembling blades

of grass. She raises her feline face, sneering

hot beauty, dark lips like black tulips;

shudders with unused smooth energy,

like Italian women tossing long dark hair -

shrugging, sunglassed, mysterious, elegant.

Her whiskers are white stars - sleepily bored

with the everyday, warm lull before the chase,

she reveals pure gold irises - rings shooting

sight, burning bullets into blue; this wonder

of the world’s show - organic gold under

glass skin. Her long, languid 1920s yawn

shows Sabre-tooth intention towards gazelle

now leaping from hot-plate earth, savouring

the last sweet leaves; not now - she is strolling

in the pleasure of her beauty, unaware, egoless;

her gorgeous state so melded to her being,

she cannot know, admire - that is our job.

Present epitaph of this leopard:

Thirty nine is the number of her threatened

brotherhood, species blood; thirty nine steps

to complete death of genetic script and animal

expression - wild survival deemed ‘impossible’.

Her magnificence that glorified the world

annihilated; this is a crime against Nature.

‘The selling of products from some of the world's most endangered species (eg tiger skin or rhino horn) is not an arrestable offence under British law. Even if traders are stopped at customs, the average fine levied per seized item between 1996 and 2000 was just nine pence. Items regularly confiscated include orchids, coral, sea horses and butterflies, as well as parts of large mammals.’ BBC, 2006

‘According to TRAFFIC (a division of the WWF and the World Conservation Union), the international illegal trade in wildlife is worth an estimated £5 billion a year. It is second only to the narcotics trade. According to their research, some 500 million animals and plants are traded across borders each year, a quarter of them illegally.’ BBC, 2006

‘And now that Britain’s primary egg thief has been jailed - the maximum six months for the first time - maybe people will realise the time of pussy-footing about animal and wildlife crime is over. It’s not about bunny-hugging softies, or polite coffee mornings raising funds for one-eyed cats, but combating serious crime. D’Cruze concentrated on Scotland’s rarest, most endangered birds, like golden eagles and ospreys, stealing six clutches of osprey eggs when only 20 pairs exist. He stole these vital parts of Scotland’s natural riches from all of us. But more egg thieves should end up doing, um bird, when Scotland brings in custodial sentences next year – hopefully sharing cells with the people currently poisoning birds of prey.’ Gillian Ferguson, column, Scotsman newspaper

‘When the last flame dies/ flowers fall upwards,/ seeds fall from bright fields/ down into the sun.’ Bernard Saint, The Sun Upturned

‘…Only a hoot owl/ Hollows, a grassblade blown in cupped hands, in the looted elms/ And no green cocks or hens/ Shout/ Now on Sir John’s hill. The heron, ankling the scaly/ Lowlands of the waves,/ Makes all the music; and I who hear the tune of the slow,/ Wear-willow river, grave,/ Before the lunge of night, the notes on this time-shaken/ Stone for the sake of the souls of the slain birds sailing.’ Dylan Thomas, Over Sir John’s Hill

Who will help me mark the places?

Who will help me mark the places?

Blue plaques for the planet’s colours;

Earth’s flag in space? - Bright green

for her Nature - the flags of earth? –

No, black to suit the deeds - black

for everything we have built there;

as a symbol, for the darkness of it:


we could inscribe; details of every incident,

where trees burned - orchids were crushed;

leopards and elephants, Polar Bears died –

at least a memorial, some visible reminder

to those accountable, responsible - guilty

as charged; something to sanctify the spot,

where Creation’s skill and patience, imagination

was extinguished – one of her lights, existences,

put out - leaving a space as there was once here,

in space, before the blue planet, poetry of life.

Marking the graves of what was - should have

been: simple epitaph to show our shamed love.

‘Governments can use these new maps to fast track a global network of large, protected areas both on land and at sea. They can no longer use the lack of maps and data as an excuse for not taking action to halt the biological catastrophe we are facing. If they don't, we run the risk of losing even more species forever, and in so doing jeopardising our own survival," said Greenpeace International forest campaigner, Christoph Thies. The launch of the maps coincides with Greenpeace campaigns to highlight the global biodiversity crisis. Greenpeace is in the heart of the Amazon campaigning to prevent it being cleared to grow agricultural product such as soy. Greenpeace has also set up a Global Forest Rescue Station in the Paradise Forests of Papua New Guinea to protect the forests from illegal logging. At sea, our ship the Esperanza is continuing its 15-month long   Defending Our Oceans Expedition, currently focused on stopping pirate fishing and securing sustainable future livelihoods for the millions of people living in coastal communities who depend on the marine environment for food and income. The challenge for the world is to use these maps as a roadmap to recovery and not as a sad reminder to future generations of what we could have saved if only the governments of the world had acted.’ Greenpeace Global Snapshot, 2006

‘Descartes taught us to think of matter essentially as a resource – a jumble of material blindly interacting. Animals and plants were machines and were provided for us to build into more machines. It is this vision that still makes it so hard for us to take seriously the disasters that now infest our environment. Such a lifeless jumble would be no more capable of being inured than an avalanche would. Indeed, until quite lately our sages have repeatedly urged us to carry on a ‘war against Nature’.  We did not expect the earth to be vulernable, capable of heatlh or sickness, wholeness or injury. But it turns out that we were wrong: the earth is now unmistakeably sick. The living processses (or, as we say, ‘mechanisms’) that have so far kept the system working are disturbed, as is shown, for instance, by the surge of extinctions. Descartes’ world-view did, of course, produce many triumphs. But it produced them largely by dividing things – mind from body, reason from feeling, and the human race from the rest of the physical universe…For a long time now our culture has tolerated this deprivation. But it has become a serious nuisance in many areas of knowledge…. It is clear by now that many of us want to see our world, including ourselves – more as a whole, indeed that we despearately need to do this.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

Until our gardens die

Until our gardens die

under our own hands -

sweet peas, strawberries, sorrel,

cucumber, lettuce; shrivel, sour,

will we do nothing.

Until our tamed patch,

shorn green, subdued,

burns beneath our feet -

blue hollyhocks tumble

to their rickety green knees;

red hot pokers fizzle brown,

Lily-of-the-Valley’s tiny lights

go out - and a last smouldering

rose turn black; buttercups

melt into sunshine puddles,

will we do nothing.

Until birds, butterflies, bees,

are memories in vacant air -

worms, beetles, no longer

disturbed by rake or spade;

until Flower and Horticultural

shows are finished, impossible,

past - vase on the sitting room table

is empty, left forever gaping, vacant,

open-mouthed in shock, redundant;

needing stems in its belly, flowers -

will we do nothing.

‘The bullying American crayfish is bigger, more aggressive, and is dominating its smaller, nicer, British relatives. No human parallels there then. In the GM crop trial of the crustacean world, American crayfish have escaped into waterways after being bred in captivity for restaurants, meaning our native species face extinction. However, a crayfish conference announces ‘spectacular’ success in luring males into prototype sex traps using lady American crayfish pheromones, allowing them to be captured and “put in the freezer”. Could this be adapted to benefit human society? All married men found in the trap could also be put in the freezer and thus adulterous men could gradually be removed from the gene pool.’ Gillian Ferguson, column, Scotsman newspaper, 2003

‘When the Human Genome Project, which set out to work out the complete gene sequence of a human being, is completed, probably by the year 2003, the full genome will fit comfortably onto two standard CD ROM discs…these two discs could then be sent into outer space, and the human race could go extinct secure in the knowledge that there is now a chance that at some future time and in some distant place, a sufficiently advanced civilization would be able to reconstitute a human being.’ Richard Dawkins

Who would want to reconstitute us?

Who would want to reconstitute us? -

human Pot Noodle, space-trailer trash,

discarded junk - when they discovered

what we had done to Earth, so shining,

breathing blue and green in the enormous black;

these space sailors navigating like our lost birds,

by stars. They would see how once we shone -

coming from stars and love; read Earth’s story

in our genes, the life we had extinguished -

scale of our destruction, ignorance, foulness;

wanted for crimes against the Universe -

Nature found wandering, crying among

the furthest stars with a handful of bacteria,

molecular memory of water; her first worm.

Star villains, planet felons, murderous space

scum - our Mozart and poetry - doctors, art;

beauty, would count for nothing - our hand

and eye, invention, truths, kindness, in vain;

we would be treated as Spanish or Bird flu –

virus, space plague, bacteria; doomed spores

never allowed again to colonise outside the lab;

never again given the stars and water and light.

‘Science! True daughter of Old Time thou art!’ To Science, Edgar Allan Poe, 1809-49

‘What's the point of insects?They're worth a cool $57 billion to the United States each year, that's what. Next time you dismiss insects as mere creepy-crawlies, ponder for a while on what life would be like without them. Our six-legged friends might be more valuable than you think - research estimates that they're worth at least a staggering $57 billion to the US economy every year. The estimate was compiled by a pair of conservation researchers aiming to stress the value of wild insects. Although putting a dollar value on the environment is a difficult and controversial task, it is something many ecologists have tried to do to explain the worth of biological diversity to officials more used to dealing in dollars and cents. It took the duo more than two years to tot up all the economic transactions that would have been impossible without insects, from agriculture to birdwatching….A value of $57 billion is a conservative estimate, says co-author Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. The analysis only considers processes for which hard data are available and which are directly attributable to wild insects. Vaughan, together with John Losey of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, looked at four processes: disposal of dung; control of crop pests; pollination; and nutrition for wildlife such as birds. Excluded from the analysis were the services provided by domestically reared insects such as honeybees. "If you look at all of the services across the board, you're looking at hundreds of billions of dollars," Vaughan says. As for the total, all-inclusive value of insects, Losey says the answer is clear. "I don't need to guess at the total value of insects' ecological services — ecosystems and the life they support (including humans) could not function without the services insects provide. "By far the greatest direct contribution of insects comes from their role as food for birds, game and fish, Losey and Vaughan calculate. Given the overall value to the US economy of the recreation industries of hunting, fishing and birdwatching, and the proportion of species involved that eat insects, these industries would be almost $50 billion worse off each year without them.’ News@Nature. com, 2006

How much is a butterfly worth?

How much is a butterfly worth?

Do I hear ten pounds; a billion,

four? - One for every billion years

of Evolution that created her wing.

What do I hear then for her alchemy

of iridescence - rainbow knowledge;

how to print an owl eye in her scales?

She could be adapted for nice knitting

patterns; that curly-tongue mechanism

might be patented to reach the bottom

of a glass - see how she stays sliver-thin

dining exclusively on sugar, there must

be money in that; or steroids for high-

jumpers distilled from grasshoppers -

how much is the heather-loving bee

worth to the golden honey economy,

providing his laborious processes,

flower symbiosis, unconsciously

for free. Gratis also the services

of ladybirds eating green flies -

spider mopping up flies, dust,

in every corner of the world.

What is the value of a tiger -

the worth of his flaming fur?

Everything I own, mortgaged,

for one hot stripe still existing?

Everything I’ll earn, pledged,

for his massive facial beauty -

burning eyes. Take all my jewellery,

too, for the torch carriage of his tail;

family heirlooms that he might

survive among threatened hills.

What’s the going price for a child?

A cloud - music from the spheres?

An angel’s wing - a flower from dust?

How is love counted; is there anything

of worth that can be measured by money?

For creativity and comfort, does God cost?

And who will pay damages to exploited Earth,

provided beautiful and free; but stolen, ruined.

‘How sweet a scene will earth become!/ Of purest spirits a pure dwelling place,/ Symphonious with the planetary spheres;/ When man, with changeless Nature coalescing,/ Will undertake regeneration’s work,/ When its ungenial poles no longer point/To the red and baleful sun/ That faintly twinkles there…’ Percy Bysshe Shelley, Queen Mab

Note from the author
exploring the project

    Gene Zoo
    Gene Garden
    Earth Poems
        Mass Extinction
        Nature & Science notes
        Goddess Visions

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