The Unwild World

The way it feels, sitting in the library courtyard, and seeing a baby sparrow at your feet, scavenging the crumbs from your crusty roll. The way it feels when a cat, perched on a fence on your way to work, doesn't flee but instead rubs its head against your hand. When a water dragon tries to steal your lamington outside the Gallery of Modern Art. When a tiny silver-eye crashes into your lounge-room window, breaking its neck, and you cradle its still-warm body, bones full of air. When a hundred seagulls glide high over your house at sunset. When you stand a little too long, looking at the bones and intestines of a dead rat on the railway station platform.  When a ring tail possum totters along a power line above your head as you walk moonlit home from the pub. When a praying mantis looms from a fresh-picked, vase-stuffed bouquet.

These tiny miracles. When animals sidle their way into our human world, when we get a glimpse of an entirely different way of being alive.

Eighty-five percent of the land on Earth is human habitat. It is where we build homes, grow food, harvest timber and dig mines, where we build our factories, our roads, our airports and car parks. The water too: we dam it and channel it for irrigation, we use it to soak up waste, we drain it to build new suburbs, we fill it with tiny pieces of plastic.

The World Wildlife Fund's recent 'Living Planet' report tells us that between 1970 and 2012, the population of non-human vertebrate animals on Earth dropped by 58%. There are half as many non-human animals as there were forty years ago. The human vertebrate population, over that time, doubled. Lose an Irawaddy dolphin, get a human; lose a mountain pygmy possum, get a human; lose a Siberian tiger, get a human; lose a kakapo, get a human; lose a forest elephant, get a human; lose a Philippines eagle...

By 2020, 'Living Planet' says, the non-human vertebrate population will have dropped by nearly 70%. Imagine how that would feel if it were humans – imagine if, in 50 years, more than two-thirds of the people on Earth were gone. Dead.

We'd suspect something had gone wrong.

The Director General of the World Wildlife Fund says, "Life supports life itself and we are part of the same equation. Lose biodiversity and the natural world and the life support systems will collapse.” Humanity, he reminds us, is completely dependent on nature for clean air and water, food and materials.

Vast fields of corn, vast fields of soy, vast fields of tarmac, vast fields of humans.

All the animals on Earth crammed into less and less and less of this planet's surface until there is nowhere left to go, until they are just gone.

Can 8 billion people die of loneliness?