Human Population Surges While Silence Haunts the Natural World

Scrolling the Internet, I came across the haunting sounds of a bird call. It stopped me cold.

Recorded in 1987, it was the song of the male Kauaʻi ʻōʻō, a Hawaiian bird species. He paused his singing – waiting for a female

Adult and juvenile Moho Braccatus.

to respond. That never happened. It seems he was the last of the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō. Despite exhaustive searches, it appears the song of Moho Braccatus will never be heard again in this world.

Our planet will continue its rotations. The universe will keep expanding. And we’ll busy ourselves with daily tasks. But something was lost when that tiny denizen of forest thickets breathed its last.

This extinction was driven by the introduction of nonnative species. And that, in turn, was caused by heedless humans pursuing the relentless destruction of the natural world.

Martha, the last passenger pigeon.

In 1987, the last year the song of the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō was heard, human population surpassed five billion. Now, we’re closing in on eight billion. As for those who endlessly proclaim there is always room for more people, I wonder how they’d react to hearing that last song. No doubt they’d dish out some reheated nostrums that “it’s not about population growth.” Never trust anyone who persistently papers over the obvious.

There is a pattern to our wanton destruction of the natural world. Consider what took place on September 1, 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoo. That was when the last passenger pigeon, dubbed Martha, died. Mere decades earlier, the skies over Midwestern prairies were filled with flocks of passenger pigeons, which stretched hundreds of miles. We killed them off because we could. There is no upper limit to our arrogance, it seems.

Today, nearly 25% of the 10,999 bird species worldwide are at risk, with 223 species considered to be “critically endangered.” The damage we’ve inflicted on other species is now catching up with us. Consider the COVID pandemic — which joins AIDS, SARS, Ebola, West Nile, and Zika as just the latest of a torrent of diseases to make the leap from animal species to humans. These zoonotic diseases are tied to human incursions and destruction of fragile habitats. And that, in turn, is driven by the relentless surge in human numbers.

Yet, despite sound science regarding the impacts of population growth, most of those sounding clanging alarms about climate change and habitat destruction are silent on the subject of population. As silent, it can be said, as the song of the vanished Kauaʻi ʻōʻō.

2 thoughts on “Human Population Surges While Silence Haunts the Natural World

  1. Nothing is more tragic than our own population pressuring and squeezing out the wonderful natural world around us. I am also constantly amazed at how individuals and organizations who think of themselves as “environmentalists” will continually ignore the obvious root problem of human overpopulation.

  2. Touching account, John. Sir David Attenborough, among naturalists, has often made his strong views on human population very clear. Because of his huge worldwide following – Population Connection should consider approaching him to further make “the connection” to species extinction even clearer. I highly recommend viewing, and sharing, his 2011 lecture on the subject, which now seems even more urgent than ever:

    Peter V. Fiorentino
    Rosendale, NY

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