Grief for lost species


Industrial ecocide, consumption and the impacts of climate change are already causing grievous losses. These include:

  • Big picture: The stability of the planet’s operating system leading to unpredictable losses to humans and other species of our seasons, our food sources, our coastal lands, our breathable air and more.
  • Social or human picture: Communities in front lines of war, extraction or climate change are losing certainty and peace, access to their land, cultural traditions and sacred heritage. This can mean forcing communities to harm other species, in competition for resources or in having to use polluting/harmful equipment or materials. People across the worst affected equatorial regions are flocking to cities, many having their land grabbed from them, others just leaving unproductive land, losing their way of life. Conflict, for example in Syria, Israel and Iraq are causing loss of historic buildings and ancient groves.
  • Other species picture: Three species every hour are lost to eternity, as their habitats are being lost to changing land use, deforestation and pollution. The rate of extinction has risen to 10 times above the ‘background rate’. Of course, each species is not of the same category as the death of an individual being. One has to imagine this as the same as humanity becoming extinct, three times an hour.

The list of losses will grow very long in the next two decades. It will include many things in all these categories:

  • Species of plants and animals
  • Wild places such as forests
  • Landmarks or heritage sites
  • Fertile temperate land
  • Many types of food
  • Opportunities for travel
  • Traditional practices
  • Cultural groups or languages
  • Forms of art or culture
  • Interdependence of all these things
  • Essentials for survival

An exercise

The ultimate goal of this is to explore: What can cultural organisations do to help people be resilient in face of losses of identity related to place and of biological diversity?

This will be a difficult exercise to do, perhaps best done in a small supportive group. It is intended to spark discussion about how best you can design programmes that help your communities deal with losses, but you may need to deal with this on a personal level first. How will these losses affect us? How will we react?

Try this activity as a first step, in small groups. On a large sheet draw three concentric circles:

  • at the centre is your immediate life world,
  • then you as a human species or society,
  • then the widest circle is the whole planet. 

Consider: When you imagine darker times of loss to come, what comes to mind as being most precious? What do you most value yet fear losing – in your immediate locality, in humanity and in the whole world? Each participant decides their most valued thing for each circle, and draws or writes it in each circle. 

Then each to consider, which two of these three things could you cope without?

Now, if you lost the final valued thing, what could you do? Is that a bearable action? If not, what can you do to prevent the loss of that ultimate valued thing? Finally, is that a bearable action?

After this you could move on to consider how your organisation could respond with cultural programming.

Taking part in the Remembrance Day for Lost Species (annually on November 30th) is one possible route of action.