The Fellowship of Life
Warning to the human locust
Presidential Address given by Michael Fryer at the Annual General Meeting of the Crusade Against All Cruelty to Animals on 28th October, 1978:
Today I want to develop further the theme of my editorial in the last number of our journal in which I called for more emphasis on man's responsibilities towards the environment and the animal kingdom instead of what appears to be a constant preoccupation with the rights of this, that or the other human group. It is time - in fact, long past time - that we concentrated much more thought, time and energy on protecting and conserving the environment and its living creatures instead of how we can exploit it ever more drastically. I would like to commend you of the words of journalist Christopher Booker with which I concluded.
What is the explanation, he asks, for the extraordinary sense of diminution, of triviality, which so many people feel about life today - a sense that the whole world has in some mysterious way been reduced to the same state of blind homogenised insignificance? His diagnosis hits the nail on the head in my view. In our constant striving after material well-being and technological progress we have lost sight of how we human beings work.
"We have lost touch with that knowledge", he says, "still there in the deeper levels of our psyche, that we are all in fact part of one great organism, part of each other, part of nature, and that any attempt by a part to live in defiance of the rest can lead only to a growing sense of meaninglessness and ultimately to death. The only way we can find the real meaning we crave is by finding that which truly unites us with the whole. It is the only real challenge left - and the answer does not lie in things or the opinion of others."
I make no apology for repeating these words because they embody so eloquently the Crusade's view of man's true role in nature and his relations with the animal kingdom. I have been glad to hear from many of you how much you agree with the views expressed in my article.
The sinking ark
Since it was published, I have received from Washington, D.C., a deeply disturbing report published by the Worldwatch Institute which seeks to anticipate global problems and social trends and to focus attention on them. It is the Institute's view that solutions to many of tomorrows problems are not likely to be found within the confines of national frontiers and narrow academic perspectives. This report, entitled Disappearing Species: The Social Challenge, forecasts that the next few decades will see an immense increase in the number of extinctions of all forms of wildlife - not just animals and birds but also of plants, insects and molluscs, the loss of which may well have far-reaching effect on the future well-being of man as well as that of the animal kingdom. The report quotes the conclusion of The Sinking Ark, a book by wildlife expert Dr. Norman Myers, due to be published in 1979, that one million species may be destroyed before the end of the century. According to Dr. Myers, probably at least one species of wildlife is disappearing every day in tropical forests alone, and in a few more years there may be a species lost every hour. The author of the Worldwatch report, Erik Eckholm, comments:
"Such a multitude of species losses would constitute a basic and irreversible alteration in the nature of the biosphere even before we understand its workings - an evolutionary Rubicon whose crossing Homo Sapiens would do well to avoid".
As one might expect, by far the biggest single cause of extinctions will be the destruction of habitats due to the continuing growth of the human population with its settlements, industries, agriculture, transport systems etc. encroaching remorselessly over previously undisturbed natural areas.
"Essential wildlife breeding zones, migration routes, and browsing and hunting grounds are paved, inundated with water, grazed, or ploughed. Forest lands are denuded by farmers, timber companies, and firewood gatherers and then are given over to cattle, crops, or non-native tree species. Plant species unique to a small locality can be erased from the earth by a single bulldozer, as can the animals that feed on them; predators dependent on a lengthy food chain may disappear once the wild area around them is compressed below a crucial minimum"
In addition to loss of wildlife habitat, the contamination of water and air by toxic chemicals is a genuine threat to nature. The activities of hunters, collectors and commercial interests continue to endanger the future of many species despite international efforts at control.
Lack of leadership
Such massacre of species of all kinds could lead to the disruption of the ecosystems on which human beings depend. These are so complex they defy human understanding, and thus we cannot predict what level of destruction could lead to the serious disruption of the web of life. The report calls for a greatly expanded international system of wildlife reserves, particularly for tropical ecosystems.
Remember the words of Christopher Booker? "We have lost touch", he says, "with the knowledge that we are all part of one great organism, part of each other, part of nature and that any attempt by a part to live in defiance of the rest can lead only to a growing sense of meaninglessness and ultimately, to death."
This profound truth has been evident for all to see for many years now and in the last twenty years or so has been highlighted in countless books, radio and TV programmes. There is excuse for inaction by those in the Third World who suffer daily the miseries of low living standards and in many instances the horrors of slow starvation. There is no excuse for those of us in the developed world with our affluent standard of living. I say affluent because it is indeed so by comparison with that of the vast majority of the world's peoples.
And yet most of us continue unheedingly to live our own private lives, preoccupied more with the acquisition of material things, wage and price increases and the like instead of sparing more than a passing thought to the actual future of all life on earth. The blame does not rest entirely at our door for, whilst we each have personal responsibility for our contribution - or lack of it - to the solution of these world problems, greater responsibility lies squarely at the door of the world's leaders and all others in positions of authority and power. They have access or can demand access to all the available data relating to the present and growing environmental crisis. It cannot be denied, however, that such people have not given the lead they should in focusing attention on this urgent issue and stimulating forceful action. I predict that, within the working lives of many who today spend immense amounts of time and energy in squabbling over wage increases and differentials, these same people will be brought to the point by environmental changes and world crises of acknowledging that they were fiddling while Rome burnt!
No room for wild animals
In our great Crusade we are deeply concerned about cruelty to animals and in my comments today I am not straying in any way from this concern. Cruelty consists not only of blatant acts of brutality or senseless slaughter. It increasingly arises from omission, apathy, indifference on the part of Governments and institutions as well as each of us as individuals. I would remind you of the third of the Crusade's objects: "To promote in man humane and ethical standards of behaviour towards the animal kingdom."
It can never be ethical to permit the destruction of countless forms of animal life. We all know of the thankfully much-publicised endangered species - the tigers in Asia and other big cats, the rhinos, the great whales - to mention just a few, but what are increasingly at risk are countless species which never hit the headlines. Remorselessly man's plague-like spread over the earth and his insatiable demands are taking their tragic toll. Do not underestimate the effect of the disappearance of small creatures which do not normally attract the attention of the animal lover, or of the plant life on which all depend. Each is part of the whole.
Over 20 years ago Crusade Patron Dr. Bernhard Grzimek, the world-famous zoologist, startled the world with the revelations in his book No Room for Wild Animals about the dangers facing wild animals due to man's direct or indirect action. His prize-winning film of the same name threw an even more vivid spotlight on the problem as did the sequel Serengeti Shall Not Die. Dr. Grizimek's pioneering work in alerting the world to the plight of threatened animals, in which he was ably supported by his youngest son, Michael, succeeded in triggering off worldwide action by naturalists and conservationists. In the intervening years millions of words have been written, many radio and TV features broadcast and there is no doubt that tremendous interest in wildlife and its conservation has been stimulated thereby. As a result some practical advances have been made in an international approach to the problems of conserving certain species but these have been in the main piecemeal and not affecting the fundamental causes. All too often, however, if it is a case of man's welfare or wants competing with the lives of animals, it is the animals who suffer.
I well remember the shock I experienced when I read Bernhard Grzimek's book - shock heightened when I first saw his even more telling films and I want to quote something from No Room For Wild Animals.
"Only two per cent of the earth's surface can be used as arable land. The rest is sea, mountains, deserts and the eternal ice. Admittedly, during the last 150 years we have brought wide new tracts of land under the plough. But in spite of this, the total area of cultivable land on our planet has decreased during the same period. For, from the time we started to practice agriculture, we humans have always created new wastes, which later turn into irrecoverable deserts. We cut down the forests, drain all the goodness out of the earth and expose it to the sun and the winds.The desolate Sahara, once and for a very long time the granary of Rome, is our handiwork. We have turned the Promised Land into a tragic desert, and a merciless sun dries up the sandy wastes and ruins of Mesopotamia. The bare and rocky mountains of Italy, Spain and Greece were formerly clothed in shady forests; but man transformed their trees into wooden fleets to be sent to the bottom of the sea in countless naval battles, or burnt them as fuel in the public baths of antiquity. After two short centuries of colonisation, desert storms whirl over the impoverished soil of the United States, and each hour its streams wash the good earth of ten princely states irretrievably into the sea.
To produce the paper required for a single issue of one of the great American daily newspapers some 15,000 trees have to be felled, and for the sake of boasting on gigantic posters the merits of shaving cream, beer, whisky and nylons, we are destroying our own future.
That is the reason why the wild animals of Africa are doomed to die, why all the wild animals on earth will be compelled to yield to the "Human Locust". "
The dedication of Dr. Grizimek and his son Michael to the cause of animals and wildlife protection has a particular poignancy and meaning for Crusade. Not only were we the only animal welfare society which as long ago as the early 1960's had the privilege - with Dr. Grzimek's wholehearted approval - of showing their films widely and exclusively outside commercial cinema, but this lecture theatre in which you now sit is dedicated - again with the wholehearted approval of Bernard Grzimek - to the memory of young Michael who at the age of 24 tragically lost his life in the course of his wildlife work. We are proud to think that Michael's memory and example live on in the work accomplished from this Centre. Newcomers to our Headquarters may care to look at the memorial and inscription on the wall to your left later in this meeting.
No time for despair
The facts I have related and the world problems they embody are serious and tragic but there is no time to wallow in despair at man's shortsightedness or to wail at our impotence. In fact, man need not be impotent if he can be prevailed upon to draw on his immense talents and energies to remedy the situation before it is too late. We have to fight not only apathy but the concentration of materialism which today is such a noticeable feature of life in the so-called civilised world. These days many of us are literally cocooned in our urban jungles from direct experience of the world's environmental problems. Oh yes, we hear about them on the radio and see them on TV; we read about them in the press. But isn't it true that it is easy to accept them as something removed from ourselves?
The media report so many horrors of one kind or another today that what is happening inexorably to the environment and to the world's animals appears to the majority to be of limited interest and importance. Even on the domestic front, it seems inconceivable to those of us who readily recognise the various kinds of farm animals and are concerned about their welfare that there are children of 10 and 11 who are so unfamiliar with them that they mistake a Guernsey calf for a fawn. Little hope of their showing concern for the way in which farm animals are reared if they have scant knowledge of them as living creatures! Some years ago our Patron Susanne Hart, the well-known vet and author, was teaching African children about their own wild animals, most of them never having seen one!
Although I have been speaking of world problems, let me particularise and consider certain aspects of the problem in Britain where we have a long record of concern for animals and considerable legislation on protection and conservation. Yet despite this there are still enormous gaps which enable situations to arise such as the recent one over the Orkney seal cull. One is forced to ask: why did the Scottish Office authorise the cull in the first place if they were prepared to back down once sufficient public pressure was exerted? One can only conclude that they were not sure of their facts and were acting on insufficient evidence to justify their proposed reduction in the seal colonies. Here is yet another instance demonstrating the unsatisfactory nature of the piecemeal management of Britain's wildlife. As we have so often advocated, what Britain needs is a National Wildlife Authority with the job of providing reliable, scientific information about the numbers of all species which could be endangered, or conversely, in need of control, such data not being subject to pressure from any group of people with vested interests adversely affecting the animals' welfare. It would be the task of such an authority to watch over - on behalf of the nation - the status and welfare of wildlife and if at any time it was found that special measures were needed to protect a particular species, to ensure that these were taken. If any animal became too numerous for its own good, it would be the authority's task to arrange for its control by the most scientific and humane means available. In a humane society, it is indefensible to treat as a so-called sport the control of any species. If control is proved to be necessary, it should be done humanely as a regrettable duty rather than as a means of providing human diversion and excitement. Albert Schweitzer put it well when he said that if a man must kill, he should always do it with regret.
Most animal protectionists who rightly propose the hunting of animals for sport and deplore the over-readiness of man to kill a species of animals which are in some way or other competing with him for food, understandably find it easier to react and protest if the perpetrator of the cruel or needless act is easily identifiable as, for example, the Scottish Office authorising the seal cull, the hunter of foxes, hare or deer. It relieves one's feelings of outrage to aim one's protest at a definite target and it sometimes achieves results as in the case of the Orkney seals. The perpetrator is seen as the enemy with whom the battle must be joined.
But what if the enemy is in fact ourselves? The seals and the seabirds suffering and dying through oil spillage from the wrecked oil tanker in the Irish Sea are no whit less worthy of our compassion and action than the Orkney seals. Oil tankers ply round Britain's shores and other solely due to the insatiable world demand for oil to provide energy and other products to meet the demands of our technological and industrial society. Who comprises that society? You, me and millions like us. By consuming energy, food (including grains and vegetables), and clothing, each one of us indirectly consumes or displaces wild things. We all share the responsibility whenever wildlife habitat is destroyed.
Since the inception of the Crusade in 1955 we have striven to enlarge people's comprehension of what constitutes animal welfare, to stretch their imagination so that it encompasses animals in faraway places as well as domestic animals, those with a less cuddly image as well as appealing pets. We have sought to involve our members and the public in concern and action on the wider issues affecting animal welfare, to see man's responsibilities towards animals and the living environment as total, to live by the concept that all life is one and interdependent.
Do you recall the published comment from a member in the last issue of The Living World which read:
"Yours is not a sentimental organisation but one which holds those of us who have 'arrived' at the only true philosophy for a better world."
Crusade's strength and the tremendous influence of its aims and policies over the years both inside and outside the animal welfare movement are proof, if we needed any, that the birth of the Crusade was right for the times and that our pioneering role in so many aspects of animal welfare was sorely needed. We have seen our policies, our methods taken up by others and, whilst imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, on a serious note this again is indicative of the Crusade's unique role. Crusade has led the way and others follow.
We have not shrunk from focusing attention on unpopular issues such as the damaging effect on animals of the human population explosion which is the biggest threat of all to the future of all life. We do not shrink from calling for a searching reappraisal by each and every one of us of our individual debt to animals which goes much deeper than our gratitude for the companionship and joy we derive from our pets - a reappraisal which, if honestly made, must inevitably lead to changes in our life style and in the demands each and every one of us indirectly makes upon the living environment and its creatures.
Man's treatment of animals as a whole will improve only to the extent to which we each accept personal responsibility for the indirect as well as the direct effects of human actions. Only by evolving and living by compassionate standards in all our dealings with creation shall we find that harmony and peace of mind which is so lamentably absent from our so-called civilised society today.
From: The Living World #19 (1979)
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