Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Elephant Skin Table: a Reminder of Human Cruelty at the Summer Academy of the Club of Rome in Florence

One of the participants (*) of the Summer School of the Club of Rome looks at an exhibit of the "La Specola" museum in Florence. This table is made using the skin of an elephant and it was a kind of furniture fashionable during the 19th century. The museum has inherited several items of this kind. Correctly, they are not normally shown to the public except in special occasions, such as the visit by the participants of the Summer Academy. Yet, these objects remind us a human attitude toward wildlife that's still common among us. 

For many of us, it is a surprise to discover that, today, 97% of the vertebrate biomass on land is composed of humans and of domesticated animals, leaving only 3% for wildlife (these numbers are obviously approximate, but they seem to be reasonably accurate.) 

Apparently, something monstrous has been taking place during the past few centuries: we managed to exterminate most of the Earth's wildlife and we keep at that as if it were the true human purpose on this planet. As the human population continues to increase, the wildlife population must necessarily decrease. How far are we from the time when there will be no wildlife left? In 1970, Isaac Asimov had optimistically estimated as 2430 AD the year when the last animals of the planet would have been killed but, at this rate of increase of the human population, the complete extermination of vertebrates could take place much sooner. It is an enormous change, something that compares with the greatest disasters recorded in the history of the biosphere  

But human beings seem to be unfazed, or at least most of them. Evidently, they are humanocentric and things haven't changed much from the time when the elephant skin table shown in the La Specola museum was made. Humans continue killing everything as they increase in numbers and whatever disputes the human right of appropriating all the spaces and all the resources of the Earth is ruthlessly eliminated.. 

Will humans ever change their attitude? Hard to say but, at least, I saw these numbers shown for the first time in a public debate at the 1st Summer Academy of the Club of Rome, in Florence, in Sep 2017. The issue was raised by the Club's co-President, Ernst von Weizsäcker, who noted already on the first day of the school how most of the current ideas on how the world is supposed to work were developed in an age when the earth was almost empty of human beings. 

Today, von Weizsäcker noted, the situation is completely different and he mentioned the data about the 3% of wildlife remaining. Then, we should change the way we see the world; challenging the humanocentric view of the world that remains entrenched in the mainstream environmental movement. 

Yet, this information didn't seem to make inroads in the discussion. As far as I can tell, it was never mentioned again in any of the many sessions of the Summer School in Florence. Let's say that von Weizsäcker's talk was a start, at least; but was it already too late?

*(image reproduced with the kind permission of Joséphine von Mitschke-Collande, who appears in the photo)


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)