What We Cannot Buy: Consumption and the Loss of Our World

Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff (Getty Images)

Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff (Getty Images)

I read the other day that the eastern puma had officially gone extinct. In 2017, several species passed on from our planet for all time, lost to history and living now only in libraries and documentaries. I felt shaken. Did we really just lose such a beautiful animal? Forever? 

Acting with the speed of the digital age, I typed "puma" into google. What I found was not information on wild regal cats, but pages upon pages of information on shoes. Locations of where to buy them, different styles for different genders, sales and discounts, and current creative collaborations. 

I was struck with the plain truth. Consumption is our priority, and it shows in the health of our world.

The fifth major extinction of planet earth was 65 million years ago. The dinosaurs vanished, leaving behind their bones, and whispers of secrets still uncracked. It's now been widely accepted that we are living through the sixth major extinction. Animals are dying off at increasingly alarming rates, and humans (when they're not shooting each other) are becoming sick. Technology has been a tremendous aid in the human lifespan- but as creatures who are part of a living ecosystem, we are greatly suffering.

Bleached coral reef

Bleached coral reef

Coral reef supports around 25% of marine life, providing homes and environment for sea creatures. They are bleaching, leaving countless oceanic insects and animals without protection or resources. These reef not only buffer the crashing of waves, making the ocean a safer place for animals and humans alike, but they contain the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.

There is a domino effect when it comes to the vanishing of species. We may not be aware of the direct relation between a tiny plankton living in the ocean and the water we drink, but it becomes clearer while simultaneously looking closer, and witnessing the connection from a distance. This is the same water we use to drink, grow our food and shelter, and maintain our hygiene. The link is absolute. The air we breathe, the food we eat, the lives we live - all depend on the smallest microorganisms which thrive from the health of the ocean. The compromise of the worlds water has hit a peak state of emergency, as micro and macro plastics alike push species to the breaking point. How many starved whales with bellies full of plastic must wash ashore? How many animals split by the weight of trash and chemicals must we see to be convinced to change? 

Photosynthesis, first by marine cyanobacteria, then by marine algae and finally by green land plants, has dramatically changed the carbon cycle and ultimately the earth. Plants have run the biological carbon cycle for 3 billion years in the ocean, and for the past 400 million years on land, using the process of photosynthesis to convert atmospheric CO2 into carbon-rich carbohydrates and sugars to feed themselves. And they are very good at it. They not only feed themselves, but also feed the whole chain of animal life. They also produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis, an element essential for animal life.
— Eric Fok, (Marine Biology at Auckland University of Technology)
The destruction of the Amazon Rainforest

The destruction of the Amazon Rainforest

When plants can't provide enough oxygen to sustain their own life as well as the over-population of others, extinction is a direct result. Without the 50% of healthy breathable oxygen given by the oceans phytoplankton (photosynthetic organisms that live in the surface oceans), the oxygen-giving plants of the world find themselves carrying a very heavy burden. Meanwhile, the 2.7 million miles of the Amazon rainforest and basin continue to be uprooted and destroyed. There is only 20% left - that's 20% lung capacity for the largest oxygen producer AND carbon dioxide absorber on the planet. Let me say it again: the largest producer of oxygen and absorber of prevalent greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is now existing at only 20%. And we are losing more than 150 acres of the Amazon every minute of every day. This morally wrong and often unlawful deforestation is largely due to land clearing for cattle. The demand for meat has risen dramatically with the population, and room is running out. Other reasons include logging, mining for minerals such as diamonds, aluminum, copper, and gold - as well as large agriculture. These massive single-crop plots generate wheat to feed cattle (an animal never meant to consume grain), box cereals and enriched flour foods, sugar, coffee and palm. A massive pantry, containing a handful of major on-the-go human staples. The land cannot sustain these large operations, none of which are indigenous to the region and strain it in multiple ways. Oil companies continue to aggressively drill through the Amazon resulting in major spills, further killing the land and aquatic animals, and seeping into the water and soil causing irreversible damages. 

Albatross chick. Photo: Chris Jordan

Albatross chick. Photo: Chris Jordan

Scientific research has shown that the rainforest itself affects the weather in the region. The trees affect how water moves through the ecosystem, how the wind blows and where rain falls. Cutting the trees down and turning the area into farmland or grassland changes this relationship. The very existence of the rainforest helps to create the weather that maintains the rainforest, and cutting down the trees destabilizes this balance.
— Colin Schultz, Smithsonian.com

The magic and artistry of our planet and our lives is being lost. Most humans do not seem fulfilled, wishing for the worlds they read about, see on screens, or depict through a self-directed media fantasy. These worlds in fact are all around us, but our priorities - our immediate demands - create an environment that is not sustainable for us, or for our great world that we call home. We are tired, and lost in the whirlwind of a day-to-day that seems inescapable. The earth below and around us dies as we exhaust ourselves to often accomplish just those things that contribute to its demise. Individually we don't feel we have much power - and realistically, we often don't. Which is why we absolutely must organize, speak our mind, act to our truths, and take a risk to do what's right. I've found that for me, this means gathering with locals, making real in-person connections, investing in true quality over quantity, spending time learning and experiencing my immediate and greater environment while educating myself on how it relates to others. There is no "perfect," there is only intelligent, loving, courageous action. The only reason we don't have time for such things is because we don't make it a priority. It's beyond time that our priorities change, and are given the space they deserve to thrive. 

Please take a look at these images of endangered species taken by Tim Flach. Their eyes reflect the truth of this desperate moment for each of them, as well as ourselves.   

As listed:

  • Giant Panda (mother and cub)
  • Hammerhead Sharks
  • Fireflies
  • Red Panda
  • Western Lowland Gorilla
  • Polar Bear
  • White Bellied Pangolin
  • Hyacinth Macaw
  • Lichen
  • Hippo
  • Red Crown Cranes
  • Northern White Rhino (update: last male died yesterday)
  • Ploughshare Tortoise 
  • Iberian Lynx
  • Monarch Butterfies
  • Cheetah
  • Coral
  • Snow Leopard
  • Scimitar Oryx 
  • Danum Valley, Borneo