Fear of wolves in Germany highlights conservation issues and the future of our planet
The wolf is by far the most popular fursona species but, as a recent opinion piece in Deutsche Welle pointed out, they are not universally loved. In Germany, like many places in Europe, wolves were driven to extinction and it was only in 2000, after approximately 150 years, that wild wolves were born in Germany once again. Many people, particularly farmers, are worried about wolf attacks on their livestock – echoing our previous reporting of wolves in France– while others are concerned about the risk to humans. But this conflict is about more than wolves; the conversations about wolves are intertwined with much larger issues.
Discussions around wolves show both the fear of the wild and the human desire to eliminate all danger while seeing themselves not only as superior to other animals but, to use the Biblical terminology, granted dominion over them. This is seen in sentiments that even question the right of other animals, such as wolves, to exist in "our" world.
"Wolves do not fit into our civilization any longer," she said, adding that her fear of wolves means she no longer enjoys walking in the countryside.
Over time, more and more evidence has accumulated that, due these attitudes, we are responsible for a widespread decline in animal populations and species that leave us with a dangerously low level of biodiversity. This is termed the sixth extinction.
The extent and speed at which we have decimated animal lives is absolutely shocking. Over our short time on this planet we are predicted to have caused the loss of approximately 2,5 billion years of mammalian evolutionary history. It would likely take at least 3-7 million years to recover the sort of diversity we have destroyed. Another recent report calculates that, since 1970, we have reduced animal populations by 60%! These are not outlying reports. A study from last year, suggested that insect populations in Germany decreased by 75% over the last 30 years. Given that insects pollinate the vast majority of flowering plants from which we obtain most of our food, this is serious news. Earlier this year, another report stated that humans have caused the loss of 83% of mammals and 50% of plants. Furthermore, it estimates that, by weight, only 4% of the mammals on earth are wild animals, the rest is made up of only humans and livestock. The situation is slightly better for birds but, even there, 70% are chickens and other poultry. You would think that these dramatic losses would spur dramatic actions to preserve biodiversity. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Preservation of wildlife is a topic that overlaps significantly with the environment and climate change. However, only 11% of Americans who support a Republican candidate, such as the current US president, think that climate change is an important issue. That allows Donald Trump to do things such as lessening environmental protections in the US and pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. Barring a nuclear war, those actions are probably the worst decisions of his entire presidency and could have potentially irreversible, global consequences. Republicans in the US are also responsible for suppressing research on wolves and ways to limit conflict between wolves and humans.
The left wing of the political spectrum is not much better. While generally acknowledging the importance of protecting the environment, there is very little actual action. Indeed sometimes the actions that are taken are misguided and counter productive, drawing energy into pointless projects of limited value. For example, there has been a recent fight against plastic pollution and plastic straws in particular. While this means well, plastic straws are less than 0,03% of the plastic pollution in the ocean, 46% of which actually comes from discarded fishing nets. And green political groups, whose main focus is on the environment, are largely against nuclear power and genetically-modified organisms. In both, cases they promote anti-science views that are far more harmful to the environment than the technologies they fear.
The worst part about all of this, is that we were warned about climate change over 100 years ago! Now, we have an estimated ten years to get our act together. So, what can we actually do? We can try push people in government to take meaningful action. The UK will ban new diesel and petrol cars in 2040. That's too late. We need to switch to fully renewable energy. People want it and example after example after example shows that it is possible. To paraphrase a Chinese proverb, the best time to take action was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.
Our personal choices are also important in limiting our impact on other creatures and the environment. Not having children is great for the environment but so is adopting a more, if not exclusively, vegetarian diet. Diet is one of those topics which people seldom approach in a rational manner. The furry fandom recently had a whole drama where one of the issues was furs killing animals for their own pleasure. This was widely and correctly condemned. However, often one hears that furs still eat meat because "it tastes so good." That is just the same; killing an animal because of the pleasure it brings. The pleasure is not so much in the act of killing as the latter consumption of the flesh, especially given as most furs do not hunt and kill their own meat, but the overall outcome is the same. Other justifications also fall flat. Eating meat is not, in any way, necessary for one's health. And arguments that we evolved or are intended to eat meat fall into the trap of trying to derive an "ought" from an "is," a fallacy which was described nearly 300 years ago. Alpha_Ki released a furry cookbook at Eurofurence 24 where all the recipes have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions (Available from Fusselschwarm in Europe and Rabbit Valley in the US.) which should make it easy to adapt. I would also like to point out that a large-scale switch to a vegetarian diet would not only be healthier, save space, save water and reduce carbon emissions but it would also greatly reduce our friction with wolves.
So what is the final message? The world is complex and it can be very problematic to look at issues in isolation; all things are connected. Our attitudes to wolves, echoes our attitudes to many other species and helps us understand much larger issues such as climate change. Tensions with wolves are also driven from many different sources. Our own choices, such as diet, can even create unnecessary conflict. Looking to the future, the fate of wolves, in Germany, France and beyond, can also serve as a proxy for the fate of our world as we know it. Wolves are a keystone species whose presence ripples through the environment. When they were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, it helped set off a chain of events which increased biodiversity, stabilised natural populations and even changed the physical geography of the land.
The environment needs wolves. And we humans do not exist separately to the rest of the world; we are all connected and we will all share the same fate in the end. We need wolves.