When I was a kid growing up in the 1950s I kept mice. I bought two, one brown, one black and kept them in a store-bought cage. They were happy for a few months. Not getting any baby mice, I figured I needed another mouse. I bought one that was half black, half white. The inevitable happened as the new beast was a male and was joining two females. His harem quickly produced a litter of pink shrimps each. Lesson One was learnt: I found out how to “sex” mice and what happens when boy meets girl.
However, boy kept meeting girl, and the cage wasn’t big enough. Dad helped me make new cages out of orange crates and window glass. Soon I had half a dozen cages full of hundreds of mice; black, white, brown and piebald, every hue going including some with natural mouse colour. When Mum found out, she insisted that the mice had to go as they had gnawed out of the wooden boxes and were breeding with house mice. I started to sell them to friends, then give them away to anyone who would take them. Years after I left home, kids were still knocking on my parents’ door asking for mice.
The second lesson was rather an unpleasant one. If I wasn’t quick enough to build new cages, the mice turned to cannibalism, even when there was plenty of food, and the babies were rather disgustingly “recycled”! Overcrowding was the problem; there were simply too many mice, and they turned on each other to create more comfortable living space, even although there was ample food and water.
What has this got to do with birding?
The world has lots of birds and pristine habitat, but not as much as when my dad was alive, and a great deal less than when his dad was about. There will be less for my son to see, and even less for my grandchildren—unless there is a good deal fewer of us than population projections indicate. Nothing is more important, yet it is the “elephant in the room.” Human population growth is too uncomfortable for anyone to face, least of all politicians.
As we fill every corner of the globe with people and use whatever land we can to grow enough food there is less space for other creatures. Genetically modified crops may increase yields, but only at the expense of “weeds” and insects. Weeds and insects feed the vast majority of birds. Water is in short supply now in many places and as the human population grows, it will be less still. Wetlands will be drained for more food production and trees felled to make way for bio-diesel or wheat, which will lead to erosion and dropping water tables. Global climate change will continue to give us all freak weather, making it worse still for us and the creatures who currently share our planet, and despite the number of extinctions already inevitable.
Yet we still talk about growth, and in many places, people get a premium the more people they add to the world because the elderly fear old age without young people to support them. Retirement ages rise.
But all this gloom and doom need not happen if every nation on Earth bites the bitter pill and starts to do everything it can to stop the ever-rising tide of human population growth.
People do not want war and pestilence, starvation, or mass economic migration, and they can be avoided if we all act now.
Problems are never solved until we face up to them, and the world’s biggest problem is us!
Think about it. How many of the places that were wilderness in your dad’s days still are? How many small-town neighbourhoods and old-fashioned farming fields are now paved over or replaced with monoculture?
Medicine has to turn to making us all healthier as we age and not just make us linger longer. Small families and childlessness need to be applauded, not labelled selfish. Each one of us can think hard about how we use up the world’s resources and pollute our own backyards.
Let’s stop looking for easy ways out and search instead for a better way forward. This grumpy old birder grew up in the shadow of the fear of nuclear war. I don’t want my grandchildren to fear water wars and new plagues but to do everything they can to keep this world rich in wildlife and wonder.
About the Author
Bo Beolens is best known in birding circles for his extensive web presence: Fat Birder - one of the world’s biggest and most-used on-line resources for birders and Birding Top 1000 lists the top birding websites by their popularity. He also has a monthly column in a UK birding magazine as The Grumpy Old Birder and has written articles in BWD and other magazines. He has had seven books published and more are in final edit… ‘The Eponym Dictionary of Birds’ came out in time for the British Bird Fair in August 2014. He also champions birders with mobility problems setting up a charity in 2001 Birding For All Having birded on six continents he also organises trips for others via his Anytime Tours website. If he ever gets time he goes birding! His wife Maggie and son Ash are keen birders but the rest of their children and some of their five grandchildren (21, 14, 12, 10, 5) have yet to be convinced... although two are now showing a healthy interest! Having reached the magical age of 65 Bo has recently launched a new BLOG: Angry Old Bloke