biodiversity

Planet Green Interview

A while back I was interviewed by author Mickey Z for the website Planet Green about my other website Exit Stage Right.

Here is the interview…

Michael Greenwell Puts the Focus on Extinction with “Exit Stage Right” (Interview)

Only his DJ career should be extinct

Scotland’s Michael Greenwell has worked, at various times, as a university tutor, a barman, a DJ (“not a very good one,” he clarifies), an office lackey, supermarket worker, president of a small charity, a researcher, a librarian, a volunteer worker in Nepal during the civil war there, and “some other things that were too tedious to mention.” Nowadays, he explains, “I am always in the education sector in one way or another.”

Part of his role as educator is the creation of a blog called Exit Stage Right, where you’ll find this mission statement of sorts:

“We are in the early stages of what could easily become the biggest mass extinction the planet has ever seen. This site is a resource for anyone to use to keep track of what has just become extinct or what is in serious danger.”

Jeff Corwin, author of 100 Heartbeats, would likely agree: “Every 20 minutes we lose an animal species,” Corwin explains. “If this rate continues, by century’s end, 50% of all living species will be gone. It is a phenomenon known as the sixth extinction. The fifth extinction took place 65 million years ago when a meteor smashed into the Earth, killing off the dinosaurs and many other species and opening the door for the rise of mammals. Currently, the sixth extinction is on track to dwarf the fifth.”

Thus, promoting awareness and action on the crucial issue of extinction is part of Michael Greenwell’s activist life and spirit. “I used to be an inveterate marcher but have pretty much given up on it now and like everyone else am looking for a way to effect real change without precipitating disaster or inviting the imposition of further constraints upon the public,” he says.

To hear more of his thoughts, check out the interview below…

My Conversation With Michael Greenwell

Planet Green: How did you get started on the issue of extinction?

Michael Greenwell: A few years ago, I started to notice the increasing frequency of the “Only 200 of this thing left” or “__________ on verge of extinction” stories that pop up every couple of weeks on page 11. Like anyone else I thought “Oh, that’s terrible” but I started to wonder why these things were not front page news. It is an entirely different category of story to a story about some politician being an idiot in one way or another (don’t get me started on celebrities), because if a politician is sacked or voted out there is always another vainglorious clown waiting to take his or her place. Unlike politicians, in the animal extinction issue, “gone” means “gone forever and not coming back” which is a much more serious thing.

PG: How did that lead to the creation of your blog?

MG: I thought about just putting all the stories I could find on the issue on one site with no fear or favor about where it comes from—just a link to where the story comes from and then the info. I hoped maybe to get some general readers but also that maybe some activists and scientists that work in the field would take a look at it and use it as a resource. That has happily been the case. Aside from that you would be surprised at some of the abuse I have got for it.

PG: Is there a common thread in such abuse?

MG: Usually it is of the “animals will hurt you if they get a chance so why should we give a shit about them?” variety. This is so ridiculous I don’t even bother responding to it usually.

PG: Conversely, have you heard from readers who’ve thanked you for the blog and now see extinction as an urgent issue?

MG: Yes. Notwithstanding the abuse I get quite a lot of correspondence about it all. I often get emails from teenagers asking for help with a school project about something which is a positive sign. If i can I direct them to where they want to be looking for more information on the subject or groups they want to join. There are also a lot of people who tell me that they had never realised the problem was this serious and so on. A lot of conservationist groups send me their press releases too. Finally, I occasionally receive emails from people asking me to endorse their eco-product or enviro-tourism. I haven’t yet seen one of these that I would consider having anything to do with.

PG: If you could reach as wide an audience as possible with information about extinction and the human role in this maddening trend, what would you tell them?

MG: I was thinking the about it the other day when I was showing Supersize Me to a group of students. The doctor was telling Morgan Spurlock about how the human liver is resilient and can heal itself but that by doing his McDeaths experiment he was literally pickling his liver with toxic food like was done in Leaving in Las Vegas with alcohol. I thought that there was an analogy there. The ecosystem is resilient, it can take a lot of shit that you might throw at it. Even if it takes a temporary hit it can rebound and replenish itself…some individual cells will be gone of course but other ones are made. This is the natural way of it in normal times. However, if you just continually throw toxins at it day after day after day then there comes a point when it just breaks down and there are only 2 ways out…transplant or death. As there is no transplant to another planet available (and even if there was, should it make a difference?) we and everything else only have one way to go if we don’t stop our toxic diet. And the doctor has been telling us for a long long time that we need to start looking after ourselves better.

Another Video by Michael Greenwell

PG: Okay, what can we do to start looking after ourselves better?

MG: Ideal world or right here right now?

PG: A little of both?

MG: On these issues the public are way ahead of the politicians. We have to change first. We can’t wait for them because we don’t have enough time left. That isn’t to say we should let them off the hook either. Having said that, consumer choices sometimes seem like the difference with voting Tory or Labour or Democrat or Republican. Like coke and diet coke. Essentially it is like choosing to be shot in the head 5 times or shot in the head 4 times. So if there is something to be done in the field of consumption (did you know that that is what they used to call Tuberculosis?) then the choice is not really between this thing and another supposedly more ethical thing. It is rather between this thing and nothing or repairing the old thing instead of throwing it away. Use and buy LESS is the message…instead of use and buy different, even it is tougher than choosing one thing or the other to consume. Buy less stuff, use less power. LESS is a very difficult message to transmit because everywhere we look we see the message MORE on every billboard, TV screen and in every newspaper and magazine. This is at least something practical we can do to reduce the damage. Ideally, we could realize that we are a species that is capable of improving our surroundings and work out why we seem so often to do the exact opposite. Like what I am trying to do with Exit Stage Right…. the first step is seeing that you have a serious problem.

PG: Where can readers find your work on the Web?

MG: I am a conscientious objector to Facebook. You can get me on Twitter and there is Exit Stage Right and my home page.

THE BIG ONES – MY UNABASHED POST

Where are we? – A question that has been ever more accurately answered by a long stretch of people from Aristarchus of Samos to Edwin Hubble and many many before, between and after. Suffice to say we have a very good idea now.

Who are we and what are we? – I would posit that both of these have been satisfactorily answered by Darwin but not in the sense that many people who seek to misrepresent Darwin for right-wing political ends would suggest. Let us not forget that one of the reasons that Darwin got time to study  his science more was that he fell out with the ship’s captain (whom he was employed to talk to…he wasn’t employed to be ship’s naturalist) because the captain agreed with slavery and Darwin vehemently did not.

How are we and/or how should we be? – This one is the province of the philosophers ie all of us.

Why are we? – Probably unanswerable question.

When are we? – This has also been convincingly answered. Look it up yourself – you have the time.

And today we got a lot closer to another one…

Are we alone? – I know that this is not a definitive answer but the odds just changed considerably. It is possible that over time this will become one of the biggest stories in history. If it isn’t this one, there is a high possibility it will be another one… and soon.

Check it out. I am completely unashamed to say that the fact we are attaining such a level of understanding is one of the great things about being alive in this time. The tragedy, as it has been pointed out before, is that just as we are on the point of getting it we are also on the point of fucking our little corner of it up beyond repair.

Here is what won’t help…

EAT MEAT, WHALE MEAT

This is my latest video offering which I made last night.

It uses an audio clip from episode 9 of the Chris Morris Music Show. I believe Chris Morris is the greatest satirist of his generation. I just got a hold of Four Lions too, though I haven’t watched it yet.

I have added some images and a video to hopefully give a little more impact.

You can listen or download all the Chris Morris Music Shows at cookdandbombd.co.uk

BET YOURSELF TO EXTINCTION

Paddypower and I believe at least one other bookmaker have been offering odds on which animal will be the first to go extinct as a result of the Gulf oil crisis.

Thusly demonstrated in the same story are the two meanings of the word “sick”.

However, I don’t really find any of this surprising anymore. We have been gambling ourselves into extinction for years.

Allow me to demonstrate the thought process using a gambling analogy,  which seems appropriate given the story above….

It is a bit like a penny falls machine. More and more gets piled into the system and all the while the pile (in this case  it is a pile of toxic sh*t and not money) gets bigger. However, the coins do not fall immediately. Each little nudge moves something into another space where it wouldn’t have settled without the disruption, and with next coin everything is disrupted a little more and so on.

Eventually, the pressure gets so cramped that some things just have to fall and you get a pay-off – except that this time when the pay-off comes, it won’t be good for anybody.

2 FOR THE PRICE OF ONE

Two subjects that I feel strongly about are internet freedom and the current extinction crisis.

So there was a bit of an internal clash when I saw the headline…

Internet threatens rare species, conservationists warn

Conservationists say the internet has emerged as one of the biggest threats to endangered species.

Campaigners say it is easier than ever before to buy and sell anything from live baby lions to polar bear pelts on online auction sites and chatrooms.

What the person (Paul Todd) is quoted as saying on the BBC report is that “The internet is becoming the dominant factor overall in the global trade in protected species”. However, the internet is becoming the dominant factor in most other things too. Also the Toronto Sun newspaper carried some rather different quotes from the same conference… such as …

John Sellar, CITES’ chief law enforcement officer, argued the impact of the Web was overblown and that many species that appear illegal may in fact may be legal. He also said many big traders were reluctant to use the Internet, since payments can be traced and they can be ensnared in undercover operations.

“There seems to be little evidence that there are commercial operations using the Internet,” Sellar said. “Although the risks may be small depending on which country you are living in, you can be identified when using the Internet. So there are clearly risks there.”

or

“The Internet itself isn’t the threat, but it’s another way to market the product,” said Ernie Cooper, who spearhead the investigation into the newt for TRAFFIC Canada. “Most people are not willing to pay $300 for a salamander. But through the power of the Internet, tapping into the global market, you can find buyers.”

Taking this into account, the problem does not seem to be simply the (semi) new-fangled internet (boo hiss boo hiss) but rather the age-old predilection among some people for boneheaded brutality. The internet has neither enhanced nor diminished this.

I obviously don’t deny that the internet may facilitate easier transactions for some things but the problem at root remains the same – us.

The BBC story however  read very like the old style articles from mainstream media 10 years ago denouncing the internet and hoping it was a passing fad. In that spirit then I would like to print an excerpt from an old article defending the internet.

I don’t think anybody would argue now that the Internet isn’t becoming a major factor in our lives. However, it’s very new to us. Newsreaders still feel it is worth a special and rather worrying mention if, for instance, a crime was planned by people ‘over the Internet.’ They don’t bother to mention when criminals use the telephone or the M4, or discuss their dastardly plans ‘over a cup of tea,’ though each of these was new and controversial in their day.

SATURDAY MATINEE 1 – FISH IS OFF THE MENU

I think I am going to start a little series of Saturday afternoon matinees.

For the first one I have searched in vain to find a version of this documentary that I could embed in the site but completely without luck. As I seem to be completely inept at getting vodpod to work you will just have to follow the link to watch it.

You might find the solutions they offer very tame but it is a good diagnoses about the problems of fishing.

It is on a Japanese website but the documentary is in English.

WATCH IT HERE

BROTHER GORILLA [Part 1]

This is the first part of an only tangentially related two-part post.

There is a famous song by French anarchist George De Brassens that will be part two, but in this first part I just want to post a little film I made to show that the term “Brother Gorilla” is not actually that far from the truth.

The audio is Douglas Adams and comes from probably his best book which is Last Chance to See. I haven’t actually seen any of the more recent TV series with Stephen Fry but I am sure I will get around to watching it soon enough.

Speaking of Stephen Fry, I recently watched a debate on youtube featuring him that you could watch and some of the things in that debate I wrote about a while ago in a slightly different way and got a little bit of abuse for.

Anyway, the film…

STUPID ANIMALS

I was watching a lecture this morning and there was an interesting section about the behaviour of a group of Chimps.

One chimp had died and the adults would not allow the children to come near the corpse.

All except one, which was the brother of the monkey that had died.

Whilst not wishing to anthropomorphise, this behaviour clearly shows that the chimps were cognizant of the feelings of others in the group. I am not saying we know why they did this or can understand exactly what they were feeling but they did do it.

The above story was not an experiment but observed behaviour but experiments have shown in other ways that this ability to think for others is present in the great apes.

This should clearly lend weight to the idea of giving legal rights to these animals.

It is something that several countries have already done. Also, giving legal rights to non-humans is not a new thing as Thomas Rose pointed out by saying that in the majority of the world corporations are given the legal rights of persons.

CATCHING UP

Have been incredibly busy at work the last couple of weeks and this afternoon has been the first chance I have had to work my way through 100+ emails.

Have finally got the chance to do some writing for the first time in a while so in the meantime, one of the emails I got was about this…which looks like it might be an important film…