A few experiences over the summer made me think about how the human race is a tiny speck despite being a hugely destructive species. Our destructive force brought home this week by a WWF report showing that 60% of all animal populations have been wiped out by the human race since 1970.
I spent a long weekend in July visiting the WWF rewilding project in Romania, where they are reintroducing European Bison to the forests in the Southern Carpathians.
It’s a fascinating project aiming to bring ecosystem change to the area as well as improving livelihoods by introducing ecotourism. We were lucky enough to spend a few days with a local biologist as our guide and learnt about forestry and wildlife in the area. Walking through the forests and meadows was a remarkable experience – we saw almost no people but it was really loud! Particularly in the meadows. They were teaming with life: covered in wildflowers and insects everywhere – bees, crickets, butterflies. It has rained a lot in Romania this year (more on that later) and so animal tracks were easy to see. Walking and spotting tracks made me feel that we share the space with the animals, in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. We saw tracks of bears, lynx, wildcat, deer, sheep, dogs, bison… and we all use the same paths through the forest. I felt truly connected to nature in that moment, part of something bigger than me, bigger than our species.
Back to the rain.
Our biologist guide made the comment that it had rained every afternoon there since May. At this point in July, the UK had been blue, sunny and hot for so long that I’d stopped checking the weather forecast and forgotten my waterproof jacket existed. In fact, it had been blue, sunny and hot since May. Almost like the weather had stopped moving round the earth and we were all stuck with whatever weather we had in May on repeat.
It seems that is pretty much what had happened. The jet stream had moved further north than usual because the arctic had warmed so much, resulting in less difference between the temperatures at the equator and the pole. The different position of the jet stream meant that an area of high pressure got stuck over Northern Europe causing hot, never changing weather. And why had the arctic warmed so much this year? That would be anthropogenic climate change. (Metrologists and climate scientists explain this fully if you want a comprehensive explanation)
Fast forward a month and I was back home standing in my local common, in the middle of the night, staring at the sky. We were doing an evening of stargazing as a treat for the kids before they went back to school. A stargazing expert arrived with his huge telescope and laser pointer and started showing us planets, galaxies and the oldest stars in the sky. I haven’t stood in one place for a couple of hours before and looked at the sky. Watching how much Mars and Jupiter moved in the night sky in that time made the rotation of our planet suddenly very obvious and looking at a cluster of stars that were ~12 billion years old was a stark reminder of how young we are as a species compared to the planet and the universe.
I’ve always felt dwarfed by the power of nature – seeing a forest fire spread or watching a stormy sea. These experiences over the summer reminded me again of the paradox of our individual insignificance and the constant might and size of nature. While at the same time the huge impact we continue to have on our planet as a collective force.