I have a rule never to read anything in the papers about sport or the royal family. There’s more than enough drivel to wade through as it is. But I broke the rule today when I saw a headline which read ” ‘Mankind is faced with extinction’, says Charles”. “What’s the old fool on about now?”, I wondered. It turned out that he has become the president of the World Wildlife Fund and used the opportunity of his inaugural address to say that we are so busy driving animals to extinction through our abuse of the planet’s resources that we run the risk of annihilating ourselves. He calls it “the sixth great extinction event”.
Now it happens that only a few days ago the science writer, Matt Ridley, examined in The Times the facts about the “sixth mass extinction” (another such event was the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs). He referred to the analysis made by the scholar Willis Eschenbach of the 190 bird and mammal species that have become extinct globally in the last 500 years, as recorded by the American Museum of Natural History. Only 9 continental species (as opposed to those confined to an island), have gone extinct – and they are, the bluebuck, the Labrador Duck, the Algerian gazelle, the Carolina parakeet, the slender-billed grackle, the passenger pigeon, the Colombian grebe, the Atilan grebe and the Omilteme cottontail rabbit. Only the last three vanished in the last sixty years. Not one of the nine became extinct because of climate change or the loss of rain forest. In Eschenbach’s words “This lack of even one continental forest bird or mammal extinction, in a record encompassing 500 years of massive cutting, burning, harvesting, inundating, clearing and general widespread destruction and fragmentation of forests on all the continents of the world provides a final and clear proof that the species-area relationship simply does not work to predict extinctions” .
Prince Charles is becoming more curmudgeonly every year, which is a pity. On any rational analysis the world has become a far better place during his lifetime. One indicator of this is that wildlife is thriving and that rates of extinction (which are perfectly normal in nature) are falling. It’s daft of him to say otherwise, but the WWF makes its money from its message of doom and Charles wouldn’t have been invited to become their President if he didn’t agree.