Remembrance Day for Lost Species first took place in 2011 and has become an annual event held on 30 November each year. The aim of the day is to create a space to acknowledge ecological and biocultural loss – loss of species, places and cultures. (Extinction Rebellion was not one of the founders of this day.) On the Remembrance Day for Lost Species, the invitation is to reflect on the species we have lost and renew our commitment to protect those who remain, using art, theatre, poetry or music.
XR Cape Town’s event this year involved a short talk by Dr Rachel Mash, who is the Environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the sharing of poems, the appearance of XR’s Red Rebel theatre troupe, whose red colour symbolises the blood we share with all species, and the launching in little paper boats of personal messages of grief and commitment to action.
The Great Acceleration
Humans have been responsible for driving other species to extinction in the past, and not just other species — some researchers claim that when Europeans colonised the Americas, they caused the death of 56 million people by 1600, which was 90% of the Indigenous population. Here, on the southern tip of Africa, the San society was actively exterminated through land confiscation, massacre, forced labour and cultural suppression that accompanied colonial rule. In recent decades, we have entered a new era in human history in terms of extinction of species. Extinctions are a normal and expected part of the evolutionary process but, currently, the species extinction rate is estimated to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than natural extinction rates—the rate of species extinctions that would occur if we humans were not around.
Scientists have called the period since 1950 ‘the Great Acceleration’. They are referring to an explosion in human activity according to almost every measure of it. The economy grew 13-fold in this period. The population tripled in this period and wealthier peoples became more affluent. We dramatically increased energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, conversion of wild land for agriculture, freshwater use, fertiliser use, use of plastics, pesticides and chemical pollution, transport and use of materials to create consumer products. This has had a devastating impact on our planet with the loss of almost half of all marine life in the last 40 years, according to the Worldwide Fund for
Monitored wildlife populations – mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish – have seen a 69% decline on average since1970, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2022. There has been a catastrophic loss of insect life. We are continuously reducing rainforest areas, wiping out animals and plants that have not yet even been studied by humans, and we extract so much fresh water that many of our magnificent rivers no longer reach the sea. The WWF’s Living Planet Report (LPR 2022) warns that this rate of expansion of human activity is destroying the natural environment that underpins all life on the planet. And yet politicians and economists still blindly hum the mantra of economic growth as if it is the only measure that matters. A modest growth rate of 3% would mean doubling the current world economy in 23 years. If our current rate of economic activity is causing such a rate of species loss, it is difficult to see how life on earth could continue in the face of continued exponential economic expansion.
The main drivers of species decline are habitat degradation and loss, mostly from conversion of wild land to agriculture, exploitation (harvesting, logging, hunting and fishing), the introduction of invasive species, pollution, climate change and disease. The fact that humans have vastly reduced wild spaces and fenced in and fragmented the natural areas that are left makes it difficult for flora and fauna to move in response to threats such as habitat destruction, predation, pollution and a warming climate. In choosing to situate our ceremony next to the sea, we acknowledge the pressure we are placing on our oceans and marine animals with ocean acidification, ocean warming, ever-increasing shipping of goods across the seas, noise pollution from maritime traffic, chemical pollution, exploitation of under-sea oil and gas, plastic and solid waste pollution, destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling, overfishing, illegal fishing and coastal development.
Why is XR marking the Remembrance Day for Lost Species?
XR’s first demand is that all institutions should tell the truth about the extreme cascading risks humanity now faces.
XR’s second demand is that we begin repairing and protecting nature immediately. The whole of society must move into a precautionary paradigm, where life is sacred and all are in service to ensuring its future.
In the ceremonies enacted at St James’ tidal pool, XR Cape Town invites the public to join us in celebrating and honouring the diversity of life on earth, in mourning the species we have lost and in reflecting on how we can change to a way of life that respects planetary boundaries, that restores the natural world and that passes on an intact web of life to future generations.
These desires are captured in the poems that are read, the gestures of the Red Rebels, the lighting of candles and the pledges set afloat on the water.
Read the full press release here.