The Silent Why: finding hope in grief and loss

Loss 12/101: Loss of a species: John Platt

January 18, 2022 Chris Sandys, Claire Sandys, John Platt Episode 16
Loss 12/101: Loss of a species: John Platt
The Silent Why: finding hope in grief and loss
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The Silent Why: finding hope in grief and loss
Loss 12/101: Loss of a species: John Platt
Jan 18, 2022 Episode 16
Chris Sandys, Claire Sandys, John Platt

#016. What's it like to write about species that are becoming extinct everyday? To face losses you can't control and write about them without losing your faith in the world? 

This is The Silent Why, a podcast on a mission to open up conversations around loss and grief and to see if hope can be found in 101 different types of loss.

Loss #12 of 101 - Loss of a species.

In this episode we chat to John Platt, an environmental journalist covering endangered species, and Editor of The Revelator. We approached him to find out what the loss of a species looks like to our planet, but also to him as a passionate expert.

John shares with us the ups and downs of covering such an enormous area of loss, the things that bring him to tears and the hope he has for the future, all while watching the very best and worst of what mankind can do to other living species.  And we even touched on a new subject for us - the extinction of experience.

As people who are fascinated by the natural world, we were very excited to chat to John and hear about life on the frontlines covering species extinction and if there’s any hope to be found for our animals, birds, plants and other creatures in the current climate crisis.

And there’s the potential for you wordy types to learn a new word this week - solastalgia.

22 American Species probably extinct article by John: https://therevelator.org/species-extinct-2021/

For more about John you can find him at: 
https://therevelator.org/
https://therevelator.org/author/john/
https://twitter.com/johnrplatt
https://www.instagram.com/johnrplatt/

Support the Show.

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Episode transcripts: thesilentwhy.buzzsprout.com

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Show Notes Transcript

#016. What's it like to write about species that are becoming extinct everyday? To face losses you can't control and write about them without losing your faith in the world? 

This is The Silent Why, a podcast on a mission to open up conversations around loss and grief and to see if hope can be found in 101 different types of loss.

Loss #12 of 101 - Loss of a species.

In this episode we chat to John Platt, an environmental journalist covering endangered species, and Editor of The Revelator. We approached him to find out what the loss of a species looks like to our planet, but also to him as a passionate expert.

John shares with us the ups and downs of covering such an enormous area of loss, the things that bring him to tears and the hope he has for the future, all while watching the very best and worst of what mankind can do to other living species.  And we even touched on a new subject for us - the extinction of experience.

As people who are fascinated by the natural world, we were very excited to chat to John and hear about life on the frontlines covering species extinction and if there’s any hope to be found for our animals, birds, plants and other creatures in the current climate crisis.

And there’s the potential for you wordy types to learn a new word this week - solastalgia.

22 American Species probably extinct article by John: https://therevelator.org/species-extinct-2021/

For more about John you can find him at: 
https://therevelator.org/
https://therevelator.org/author/john/
https://twitter.com/johnrplatt
https://www.instagram.com/johnrplatt/

Support the Show.

-----

thesilentwhy.com | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn

What's a Herman? / Buy a Herman - thehermancompany.com

Support the show: buymeacoffee.com/thesilentwhy

Sign-up to my mailing list (only used for sharing news occasionally!): thesilentwhy.com/newsletter

How to talk to the grieving: thesilentwhy.com/post/howtotalktothegrieving

Review the show: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Goodpods

Episode transcripts: thesilentwhy.buzzsprout.com

Thank you for listening.

John:

I'm John Platt. I'm an environmental journalist and editor of the Revelator, focusing on the extinction crisis. And I'm here to talk about what we lose when we lose species from this planet.

Claire:

Hello, this is The Silent Why, we're Claire and Chris, and this is a podcast in which we share and explore conversations around loss with those who have felt it firsthand.

Chris:

This is loss 12 in our mission to chart 101 different types of permanent loss. In this episode, the loss of a species. Let's start by teaching you a new word; solastalgia. That's the feeling of distress or unease, that the natural world around us is changing.

Claire:

And it's something keenly felt by our guest, John Platt, who's in Oregon in the US. John is a journalist best known for his environmental reporting, especially his coverage of endangered species. He has an unapologetic love for the wild and is keen to educate and inspire others, exploring all the questions that we might have around extinction.

Chris:

Why did the dodo go? What about woolly mammoths? Or more recently, the ivory billed woodpecker, the little Mariana fruit bats, or the yellow blossom, pearly mussel?

John:

That I think haunts me as much as anything else that we can forget, so quickly, what life used to be like, what life should be like, it's an extinction of empathy, because we're losing that connection to the natural world. And the more we lose that, the more we're going to lose.

Claire:

John is the editor at the Revelator, an online resource of articles and ideas about conservation, climate change in the future of wild species.

Chris:

Are you beginning to feel a little solastalgic? Well, the natural world around us is changing. And for journalist John, it's something we need to grieve, but then act on.

John:

Yeah, some days I want to cry. Some days I do. But other times, I realise, you know, I see the collective impact that people have had through trying to do good work. And that keeps me going.

Claire:

In this episode, we asked John, how he feels about losing a species and what fuels his tank to stay passionate and keep making a difference for the good of you, and me. And all of us.

John:

Constantly being in touch with people who are active, who are fighting, who are learning, keeps me positive, even in some dark days.

Chris:

This is not a guilt trip call to open your eyes, see the damage we're doing and act now to end extinction. This is a personal insight into someone's life and work for whom feelings of loss and sadness are always nearby. But also for whom joy, love, community and a gift of writing make this world a lot smaller, and a lot brighter.

John:

My week is really spent trying to balance the stories trying to figure out what we're going to tell, that can tell the broadest number of stories, while addressing crises, solutions, interesting characters, interesting wildlife that we're looking at, and do it in a way that is both entertaining and educational. And in terms of my own personal life outside of that work, I don't leave the house that much during the pandemic, so it's a lot of hanging out with it with the dogs and the cat, and my wife and, and reading and just trying to take as good care of myself as I can,

Chris:

Aside from the pandemic, let's imagine that doesn't exist, and we're completely Covid-free.

John:

Yes, let's.

Chris:

With the work that you do, certainly with different species with with the natural world. Do you get to go out and experience in the flesh, a lot of what you write about? Or is it very much home based office based research that you use the internet for?

John:

Right. I try to get out into nature as often as I can, but I'm writing about stuff around the world. And I've always been the type of journalist where I would rather pick up the phone and talk to someone or video chat and get the story from them directly, then spend a lot of time travelling to get to a place and and sure, you get a lot of really important local colour, but I'm not, if I were travelling to Indonesia and France and South Africa, I could only do a couple of stories a year. And this way I can I can report on a number of stories a year, quite a few, and edit quite a few more, and it works out.

Claire:

Where did your love of that kind of work come from? Where did that start?

John:

You know, I read all the magazines, the other kids magazines about wildlife as a kid. I collected these cards came in the mail every month. Each one would have a little animal on it and some facts on the back. I love those. Strikingly, or oddly enough, one of the first things that taught me that something could disappear was comic books. Superman, the last member of his species, and that, you know, wow, the last son of his planet, that struck me as a kid. It really wasn't much weight in the stories, but to be the last of your kind, in conservation now, we call that an 'endling' the last of their species. That continues to haunt me. I mean, what are these last individuals like trying to find each other, trying to persist? So yeah, it's amazing that literature or fantasy or fiction, can can carry these lessons, even if they're not always intended. So yeah, and I've always been a writer, but when I started doing it professionally, it was a it was a mixed bag, it was a lot of different things. I would be writing fiction one day and technology newsletters another, and ghost writing a newspaper column for a professional gambler, on the third day, and, and all kinds of weird, wonderful stuff. And I loved it. And it was it was and I was good at it. But about I guess about 15-17 years ago, the two things dovetailed, I was reading these technology newsletters, and I started seeing all these stories about wildlife and the people trying to protect them that I didn't think we're getting much notice around the world. So I just on my own, started blogging about it. And within a couple of years, that turned into my career. And it's been a great transition because it's something I'm passionate about. I really feel like I found my voice and I'm making a difference. And I'm learning nonstop about different incredible species and the people who are trying to help them.

Claire:

I presume you're not supposed to have, I don't know maybe you're not supposed to have favourites? Do you have a favourite animal? My favourite depends a lot on what's going on in the news and my mood. I have a lot of favourites. Tigers, if I go a year without writing about tiger's I start to get a little shaky. Rhinos, orangutans pangolins have become a recent favourite because they are just adorable, cute little anteater type creatures but they're terribly endangered. whales were one of my entry points into conservation, gorillas, dragonflies, hummingbirds. I mean, you name it I, geckos, you know, there's just so many amazing things, and there's always something new. I, one of my favourite, I'd never knew about this one, after all these years work on species, but I've just interviewed this artist and she'd painted a portrait of this Madagascar species called the Satanic Leaf Cutting Gecko, never heard of it before, it looks like something out of a fantasy illustration. It's beautiful. It's amazing. I love the variety in nature. I think we've always liked animals and things. I think it's just, there seems to be a sense of humour there. You just can't believe the variety of shapes and sizes and then they find these fish at the bottom of the ocean that just that like they shouldn't even exist. Exactly. I actually started following a pangolin account on Instagram, because someone pointed out they look like they're always plotting something evil with their little hands together.

Chris:

Do envious as Brits having David Attenborough as a sort of local resident, is he a bit of a hero within the world, or are there dozens of individuals that do similar?

John:

Well, he's he's absolutely iconic. And he's, he's done it all. He's been around the world. He's he shaped policy and perception, to have an entire career with that type of impact. It's the type of thing that someone can only dream of. But there are a lot of other personalities. And and I think that speaks to the need to, this as an industry where you need to trust someone. And he's developed this trust with his viewers and his readership. That they know they can go to him for important information and to be entertained at the same time. And that relationship is really important, because it's a tough world out there and journalism needs, needs trustworthy figures. You can't get much better than Attenborough. And yes, I am jealous.

Claire:

So how often looking at animals becoming extinct? How often does that actually happen? Because we hear about it. But I think when you mentioned extinct animals, most people will just go to the dodo.

John:

Right! The Dodo was a couple of centuries ago. Scientists will say that the rate of extinction right now is about 1000 times what it would be if just species were going extinct under normal circumstances. So humans are driving a rate of extinction, many, many times faster than then would be occurring naturally. And there was a United Nations report a year or two ago that estimated that by the year, by the end of the century, we're gonna probably experience as many as a million extinctions. And I think that number is conservative. Because there are an awful lot of species out there that science has never named, we don't even know they exist. But it's it's an interesting thing to ask because every year, dozens of species are proclaimed extinct. Some of those have been found again since then. If you talk to people in the conservation field, and there's a great risk in declaring something extinct too early, they call it the Romeo effect. Where, you know, if if you say, hey, this species is extinct, then everyone says, well, we're not going to fund any conservation efforts, and we don't need to preserve its habitat. And boom, you've made a mistake, you just guaranteed its extinction. So the ones we hear about, and I just actually sat down over the past few days, and went through all my notes for the past year and compiled the list of everything that I heard was declared extinct over the past year. And most of these haven't been seen for decades, but people have still been looking for them. And some of the ones that were declared extinct this year, are repeat declarations, people have searched for them, and said, no, it's extinct', 'well we're gonna keep searching', 'no, we still can't find it, it's probably extinct'. But I would guess you're probably losing hundreds of 1000s of species a year. And most of them are things that we don't even know about, little frogs, maybe an inch in size, trees. There were reports here that a third of the world's trees are endangered, some of which are down to 50 individuals. And you know, you think your oaks and your larch and everything else, we're in danger of becoming a monoculture planet, as this happens. And there's a lot of stuff out there that we're losing. But there's also a lot of stuff that we're saving. And we're preventing their decline. And I always think that's an important message to add in there, when when people ask how much we're losing.

Claire:

Is there a criteria for something becoming extinct? How does somebody make that call?

John:

Yeah, well, first of all, you have to look for it. And you have to know where it lived in the first place. Which isn't always easy to know. And I mean, let's say you're looking for a species that you think is nocturnal. But it hunts during the day, you're gonna miss it. Let's say you're looking for a plant that hasn't been seen in 10 years, but it only it only blooms one day a year. So you're only going to see it if you hit just the right moment in time. But generally, one of the things I've heard is that one of the criteria people use is it hasn't been seen in 50 years, and that numbers is porous, it's not concrete, but that's a pretty good road mark.

Chris:

Which makes me think if if it takes 50 years to sort of pronounce extinction, yet there are people that will continue to search for it to try and prove that wrong. How many years might they be searching for, and until that very small chance that they find an a living example?

John:

Well, some people it's their life's work. There was a species and parrot in Australia called the night parrot that someone searched for decades, and finally found it. People have been looking for the Tasmanian Tiger for over a century. No one's found it, and I doubt they ever will. One of the most recently declared all species was the the ivory billed woodpecker. And people are still looking for that and probably will be looking for it for a long time. Hope remains eternal. And there's always a chance life persists one way or the other. But sometimes, on the other hand, you've got, you know, a species might be down to a couple of individuals. How do you save a species like that? You know, how one of the most powerful stories I ever wrote, was about the extinction of the Western black rhino. When they were, literally, we're down to the last two. And they were 1000s of miles apart? How do they even find each other to perpetuate the species? Let alone how do humans find them? And in terms of animals potentially going extinct, there's a moral imperative to try to save them. I think people are afraid of giving up. And if you can find them, you can save them. That's happened more often than not. And I think that there's this drive to save the last things that are out there before they're gone. It's just a passion for some people that really is a passion for the natural world. And we don't always know what's gonna happen when a species goes extinct, what other plants or animals depended on it for its own survival. We've got a piece coming up next year about a Hawaiian plant that is gone in the wild, in part because it's pollinator when extinct first. So you might think, oh, there's plenty of pollinators out there, but this is a specific moth that related to this specific plant, it's like a game of dominoes. You lose an insect and maybe you lose what a pollinated maybe something ate it. Maybe you lose, you lose a type of vegetarian mammal, or maybe it ate plants that without it being there grow out of control and starve out other plants. It's a complex system out there and it balance exists for a reason, and it protects us to.

Claire:

What was the last animal to be officially extinct?

John:

Yeah, earlier this year, a couple months ago. And this is actually the last one, but the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared the ivory billed woodpecker and 22 other species probably extinct. So they're issued a call for the general public to say, you know, what do you think about this? You have evidence, they might still exist? We're calling for any additional information. So that's probably the most striking example, in this past year, it really captured people's attention to have that the iconic otter woodpecker species that people been looking for for so long, and 22 other species at the same time, that was one of the few moments that really seemed to get a lot of people talking, which is a good thing. But man, were people hurting, to experience those 23 losses, the news of those 23 losses all at once.

Chris:

Almost feels like there's so much noise now with protests and campaigns, you need to have something like that to cut through to penetrate.

John:

Yeah, I'm not gonna disagree with you.

Claire:

I imagine a lot of the big animals like tigers and rhinos and gorillas, they get a lot of attention a lot of animals people like, is there something that's gone extinct that you felt was a bit under the radar that made you a bit sad, you're like, 'oh, it's a shame to have lost that, and no one really knew'.

John:

Yeah. All the time, actually. I mean, we call these big species charismatic megafauna. And the, you know, the gorillas, the rhinos, the tigers, and they really capture our attention. And there's a value to talking about them and conserving them. You save a rhino's habitat or a tiger's habitat, imagine how many other things must exist in there. But there's a lot of things that we don't look at very often, and we don't see necessarily as humans. Freshwater Mussels are very important to entire ecosystems. They're food for a lot of animals, they eat a lot of other things, they filter the water, so the water stays cleaner for everything else around it, including humans. And this year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared several really interestingly named mussel species that have really complex shells and and life systems, they're probably gone they are there are technically protected under the US Endangered Species Act, but you can't protect what doesn't exist anymore. And they probably have been gone for decades, because we dammed the rivers and put pollutants in there and introduced diseases and things like that, run off from agriculture. And the rivers are suffering as a result. And these are things you know, how often does a human being see a freshwater mussel in the river? But we're gonna we're definitely missing them once they're gone.

Claire:

Yhey haven't got that sexy appeal for sort of fundraising either have they?

John:

Exactly. Exactly. You don't get a piece of direct mail with a muscle on it.

Claire:

You want something so pivotal like that, as like you said, I wouldn't have even thought of a pollinator going extinct, and therefore it affects the plants. Yeah, that's not something you think about.

John:

You think you think pollinators, you think bees, and you really just kind of have your an image in your mind of one bee. But first of all, there are 1000s of species of bees, and then an incredible diversity of species of colour and shape and function. And then certain birds are pollinators and moths and butterflies, and the wind is a pollinator, what happens when wind patterns shift as a result of climate change? And things used to go in one direction and boom, you've lost that.

Chris:

We've lost a few pets that we've been really, really fond off, but the most recent one was a panther chameleon, we spent so many hours learning about the care of this having this hobby and caring for the chameleon. And we had a bioactive environment, so living plants and isopods pods in the soil and you realise it was really interesting to educate people just on this one little animal that most of the work was in actually caring for everything but the animal that if you get environment, right, and even the locusts, even feeding them the right things, you know, we'd spend as much time feeding and caring for its' food and then get all that right in the chameleon just looks after itself. And so I imagine it's very similar, is it, with saving a species that you can't just grow another and stick it back in the land. You have to actually get the environment, right to think that when you do manage to bring the species back, then the environment is right to make it grow again, rather than just die off again.

John:

Yeah, you're absolutely right. I mean, species don't go extinct in a vacuum. There's usually a cause. And that causes in this modern age, it's usually humans in one way or another. It's habitat loss, its pollution, its climate change. It's introduced invasive species that humans carried one way or another, I mean, backyard cats, you know that's a huge problem. So you can't, you can't stop the decline until you mitigate that threat, or eliminate that threat. And that's not always the easiest thing to do. Climate change is a huge part of that people have been sharing learning about the science of climate change for decades, and we're still on track to increase our emissions on this planet and, and keep drilling and keep destroying habitats and, and keep having spills. It can get frustrating. I know, a lot of our environmentalists who have - they carry an awful lot of weight, they've been fighting these fights for a long time. And sometimes they're fighting big picture fights, sometimes you're fighting a specific factory, and you're gonna lose, sometimes, you're going to lose, maybe a lot of times, and that's, that's a burden that they carry, and they have to carry and they have to be able to accept it , a nd move on to the next fight. But God, just to have that strength is is incredible.

Claire:

How do you process that? Because it must be quite soul destroying at times?

John:

It is.

Claire:

Have you got ways of coping with it?

John:

Well, yes. A and no.

Claire:

Very honest.

John:

I think I had a lot of adaped strategies in place that we're that have kind of decayed over the course of the last two years, between the pandemic and the election here in the United States, and everything that's resulted since. But getting out into nature is of course, huge. And not everyone has the ability to do that. But for me, it's it's a great chance to refresh and remind myself of what, what I'm doing. For me, it's actually really interesting, because extinction is such a dark subject, right? But I look at writing about extinction as an intrinsically positive thing. Because for one thing, you're actually educating the readers. But for another, I'm in touch with all these people, scientists and conservationists, and politicians, and activists who are trying to make a difference, whether they are actively trying to save a species or trying to learn more about its decline, that constantly being in touch with people who are active, who are fighting, who are learning, keeps me positive, even in some dark days.

Chris:

So if I were to say to you, have you, you know, have you grieved the loss of a species? Would that be a question that you'd be like,'no, don't grieve the loss of species', or does that make sense?

John:

What I grieve as much as anything else, is the slow decline. I mentioned the Western Black Rhino before another species is the Northern White Rhino, and that's down to two individuals. And I've written obituaries for the last three or four as they've died. And that's just this one really public species, but for every one that I write about, I probably read a report, a scientific study, or a news article, or tweet, or whatever else the case might be, about 100 more. And so I'm constantly being bombarded with this death of a thousand paper cuts. And it weighs on you. The enormity of it, the scope. You know, I start off each day looking at my news alerts for the words extinction and endangered species and things like that. And there's always, there's always something bad. But at the same time, and this is one of the one of the things I tried to focus on a little bit as a journalist, you, these these daily things; something is going extinct, something is going extinct, someone is trying to save something, and someone has saved something, we've saved something from extinction. So it's those final two, that it becomes really important to share as much as possible, and to focus on. You know news has a really bad tendency to, I don't know if you use this phrase in the in the UK, but if it bleeds, it leads.

Claire:

Yeah.

John:

The bad news takes over everything. And in the social media world, stuff that gets you angrier, gets more engagement. But the truth is, if you look at the flip side, people, we are doing good, we're stopping declines, we are saving species, but the at the same time, we are losing a lot.

Claire:

Do you think looking back that there's been like a greatest loss from species overall, if you look back, does one in particular really irk you for some reason?

John:

Um, you know, I think back and it's not, it's not within my lifetime, but in the US we have species called the Passenger Pigeon, which there used to be billions of these birds in North America. Some estimates say there were 3 billion, some 5 billion, they flew in flocks big enough to blot out the sky.

Claire:

Gosh!

John:

To blot out the sun, to create their own shadows. And within a couple of decades, we'd paved over their habitat for agriculture, we shot them, the last one was killed in 1901. So that haunts me. But what really haunts me, is the reaction you just had to the idea of a flock of birds, blotting out the sun, and they call it the scientists call this the 'extinction of experience'. And to think that in 120 years, we've forgotten that a bird could be that populous, that it could be that densely populated, we could have wildlife behaving like that is stunning. And, you know, I remember a case in New Zealand where someone was bemoaning the decline of species that they love to fish. Well, that species was introduced to New Zealand, it was from the UK. And they lost that experiential knowledge that it wasn't even a native species to New Zealand. That, I think haunts me as much as anything else that we can forget, so quickly, what life used to be like, what life should be like, what life can be like. And I think that's one of the reasons why I see empathy in this world declining, it's an extinction of empathy, because we're losing that connection to the natural world. And the more we lose that, the more we're going to lose. So that's what haunts me as much as anything else, an individual species, is this collective experience. There are so many species like the green sea turtle, sacred in Hawaii. Well, what happens if people who have lived with the species that animal has become a part of their culture? What happens that culture as these animals decline, or disappear entirely? It just makes the world a sadder, emptier place.

Claire:

How do you keep the balance then between not being melancholy all the time, you know, in your job, how do you keep it from being professional and lots of job facts, and then something that actually emotionally affects you at the end of the day?

John:

You're assuming I do!

Claire:

I nearly followed that up with, I thought I should probably say, 'assuming you do'!

John:

There are days I come down from my upstairs office, and I come down and to join my wife, downstairs, and I'm just drained, I got nothing left. And part of that, for me is the writing experience, I throw everything into it, I throw all my emotional components into it, I throw all my artistry into writing these stories, and in editing them in the same way, I have a particular story style that I like. But at the same time, when I was freelancing, and I freelanced for 10 years before we founded The Revelator, I would I had a philosophy that if I wrote about a rhino one day, I'd write about an insect the next, if I wrote about climate change affecting one species one day, and I'd write about poaching, and if I did poaching the second day, maybe the next day, it'd be a solution story. And it's that last component that helps you, you have to focus a lot on the growth and the potential, what we're learning what we're doing. What's working, maybe looking at it from a completely different angle. A couple times a year I get to interview artists about their work in the in the wildlife realm, and looking at that from a completely different point of view, different perspective helps. So I know that if I only told, and my writers only told, negative stories, we would lose our readership immediately. And being able to focus on solutions or solutions and development, because not all these things are proven, that is what reminds people that their pain is worth the wait.

Chris:

Through your work, what are the rewards? What are the, the sort of genuine, these make me feel good, rewards?

John:

Talking to great people is always amazing. Being able to get their stories and tell their stories, right is an art. One of the true values sometimes doesn't happen for a very long period of time. I've written stories, and then had someone come back to me five years later, and say, that story changed the way I look at an animal or that story helped me get funding. I've seen my stuff mentioned in federal documents, as supporting statements to get a species protected, people have organised fundraisers to get drones for conservation based on reading my articles about the work that's being done. Seeing it shared helps a lot too, seeing its impact on the world, even if it doesn't happen that exact moment, and that's tough, because we're in an incident society right now, knowing that eventually, you're probably going to hear it did some good that it mattered, because I've gotten that experience in the past. And that's happened in my personal life, too, someone came to me after 20 years and said, you know, you said something really kind to me, and then made all the difference in my life. And I don't even necessarily remember that statement. But we have an effect on the people around us, even if we don't realise it. And I think I've been around long enough to understand that and hope that I can continue to do that.

Claire:

Do you have hope in general for the situation?

John:

No! Yes, of course I do! I'm a very cynical optimist or an optimistic cynic. I haven't, it probably depends on which day you ask that, which which side of the equation I fall on. I know things are terrible. I know climate change keeps getting worse. I know the political realm keeps getting more and more fractured. I know our media landscape is divided. I know that habitats are getting destroyed bit by bit by bit. But I've seen the evidence I've written the stories, I've talked to the people who are doing good. And yeah, some days I'll want to cry, some days I do, but other times I realise, you know, I see the collective impact that people have had through trying to do good work, and that keeps me going.

Claire:

What species do you have the most hope for in the future?

John:

The most hope for? That's a really good question. Species I have the most hope for the future are probably ones right now that we perceive as these current charismatic icons of conservation. They're going to persist one way or the other. The mountain gorilla is never going to go completely extinct because humans won't allow it to, tigers will never go extinct. Will they only exist in zoos? Will they only exist in pockets of wildlife? Sure, that might be possible. But some of the ones I have most hope right for right now, there are three species in North America, big predators that were basically wiped out that are doing really well and expanding their range. And it's causing conflict, but they're doing well. So that's wolves, mountain lions and jaguars. And the conflict is that people have forgotten how to live near large predators. It's been long enough that it's that extinction of experience again. So there's conflict, people don't want to live next to a wolf. But they're coming back. Nature persists. They find it finds a way. If they can find each other to breed they can do well, if they can find enough to eat they can do well, if they can avoid getting run over by cars and trucks, if ranchers don't poison them, they can do okay. Here in my town the local sports team local football team is named after mountain lions. But there there's only been one sighting of a mountain lion in town, in anytime recently, and people were like 'Oh my gosh! Argh!' But at the same time, that sighting thing happened. So, it's really exciting to see some of these species regain some of their lost territory, and sometimes it's they take two steps forward, two steps back, or three steps back and one step forward, you know, but these are all species that were protected. And that protection gave them the edge to return from the brink, and it's still precarious. But watching them slowly expand their territory is quite thrilling. People ask'what can I do?' Well, is it of question what you can do? Or is it a question of what your governments and corporations can do, or should do or need to do? It's not necessarily individuals who's causing these problems. It's the collective that is and the collective consolidate too, if we really try.

Claire:

If you could click your fingers and save a species now, so that it would never be extinct? Do you have one that you would choose? Well, I should make you choose really? Which one do you want to save?

John:

There's a porpoise or dolphin species, called the Vaquita. It lives in the Gulf of Mexico, which is kind of between the US and Mexico, and it's been at risk from gillnet fishing, where people are hunting another species that lives in the same waters called the Totoaba. Where it's swim bladder sells for a small fortune in China. Well, this Vaquita, I've been watching it decline, when I first heard about it, I think there were three or five hundred, then it was a hundred, now it's 10. I'd love to see that species persist, and it can, it's got the genetic strength, it's still breeding. There's still evidence of new ones out there. The ones that are swimming the ocean have little scars over their bodies. I'd love to see that animals persist. I'd love to not have to write it's obituary.

Chris:

Within the animal kingdom again, what have you seen that's had the biggest impression on you having had the joy of seeing something in the flesh?

John:

When we moved to this to our place about five years ago, and this is actually a dark story, we're in a development but there was a lot of open territory. We're on a big hill or small mountain, depending on how you look at it, there was a lot of forest near us and we moved here that we could see anything under the sun, we saw bobcats, snakes, birds a plenty, bald eagles, snails, slugs, frogs, coyotes, raccoons, everything you could possibly imagine in this region was near us, rabbits a plenty. And then, almost three years ago to the day, the bulldozers arrived. And the forest directly behind our place was wiped out. And these big mansions have been popping up ever since, and as they have appeared, the bats have disappeared, the birds have disappeared, we haven't seen a snake or a frog, but I carry the memories, and some of the photos of seeing these things in my backyard. And I think one of the most amazing things I saw there was this little slug. It was a couple of inches long it was called, I uploaded it to

https:

//www.inaturalist.org/ which is a great website where people can upload photos of wildlife and experts can identify it, and it came back as a species called The Chocolate Arion. And I was just looking at that photograph again the other day, and it is beautiful. It's got all these delightful little ridges, and it's got this rich chocolatey colour and these little antennas. I mean, it was just it's the type of thing you don't look at. And yet I could look at that photograph for hours. I mean, I spent just I would love watching these guys just inch around in my backyard. And munch on whatever it is they munched on, and they were beautiful. And I think sometimes it's those small things that we forget to pay attention to, that we forget to honour and it's just the fact of experiencing them is one of the things that renewed my sense of joy in the natural world. And yeah, now I carry the pain of looking at my back window and seeing these big mansions looming over us and a wall of crushed rock where it used to be all trees. But that pain of where we live is both a reminder of what we have to save and what we can lose at the same time.

Claire:

Yeah, I'm always fascinated by the amount of things that are going on under the soil as much as what we, we see on top because we don't, I feel like we don't have a lot of exciting wildlife in the UK, when we go to America or Canada or somewhere it feels like a chance of seeing a bear or an eagle or something like that, feels incredibly exciting when here, it's more like to be a hedgehog or a fox, which is quite a big deal. There's not really a lot else. So when you go out into your garden, you kind of cherish the little things that you have with the birds and things, but when you're digging around in the soil, and you see the amount of creatures and everything's going on under the surface, it's fascinating, and the important roles they all play.

Chris:

No one in the UK would ever speak so beautifully about a slug, that's for sure.

John:

Well, that's my role in life. Talking about some of the stuff, I really think it's so important to talk about the things that people otherwise ignore. And whether that's grief or pain and loss, or the little things that we take for granted, or the little things we don't otherwise look at. I mean, I can't imagine another journalist who's written as many articles about parasites as I have. So celebrate it, shine a light on it,

Claire:

I'm picturing the sort of poster for endangered animals, and if you had your way with designing it, I'm thinking the tigers, and that might step aside for the slugs and the mussels and the birds, and the bugs.

John:

There actually is already a poster and one of my colleagues has it on her wall. Endangered mussels of North America. It's great. And yeah, I've got an octopus here above me, and some moths and mushrooms and an owl on the wall. Yeah, there's beauty in everything if you look and maybe it's not that traditional beauty you like, but I like looking at everything.

Chris:

How is your passion for the animal kingdom influenced or changed your view of, of humanity, of mankind?

John:

Knowing what people can do, can really make your opinion of mankind sink. But knowing what they can do, on the other side of the equation, can lift it back up. And I think writing about animals has given me more compassion for humans in general. Because we're all animals. We all have the things that are affecting us, the hidden burdens, the things we carry with us that are troubles, the things that affect us, the things that kill us, the things that kill us bit by bit. And the average animal can't tell me those stories, but a human being can. Yeah, it's like sometimes the humans can tell the stories of the animals through their own experience. And sometimes that experience is painful, and it's important to convey that as accurately as possible.

Claire:

How does dealing with such a big loss, on such a big scale, day to day as your job affect you and you go through smaller losses, or bigger losses, in your own life? Does it frame it in any way, or help or hinder that?

John:

They interrelate quite a bit. You know, I've experienced a lot of loss in my life. My father, my grandmother, actually all my grandparents at this point. Over the course of the pandemic, we lost two dogs, our nineteen year old cat is going to follow soon after that. We've experienced all kinds of stuff in our lives that has been incredibly painful. And in some ways, writing about nature has been a solace. It taught me some of the same lessons that I can go back into nature and get back into touch with myself. But yeah, sometimes the collective of our lives, and I think there's the dark subjects I write about, build, and yeah, there are nights I don't sleep well, and there are days I feel too depressed to write. But there's always more stories to tell, and more reasons to keep living.

Claire:

What could people do to help give hope to this situation? Because like you said, it's such a tricky thing for individuals to do, but is there things that people can do that help you?

John:

There really are, there's a lot of things people can do. Voting is one of the most important, voting for politicians that support environmental initiatives and keeping in touch with them throughout the year to make your voice continually heard. If you have control over your own property, you can make sure there are native plants in there you can make sure it's not completely manicured, so there's places for wildlife to live and hide, you can get into nature, you can eat less meat, habitat loss, especially from cattle is one of the primary drivers of extinction and the extinction crisis. If maybe you have a specific species you care about, I mean, I love orangutans, I think they're fascinating, amazing creatures. And one of the primary drivers of their being in trouble is they're losing habitat to palm oil plantations. So I don't eat anything with palm oil. There are a lot of things people can do to affect their local environment, putting up bat houses, or bird houses, or whatever the case may be. And there's a lot of things they can do to inspire bigger, broader action; sharing photos on social media, either the things you've taken yourself or things you find, let's put more nature into the world. It's put more nature in front of people's eyes, even if they're finding in front of the computer, remind people what's important, remind people the beauty in the natural world. There's simple steps people can take.

Claire:

Something we ask all our guests, and it's normally about whether when they've gone through a severe loss, they get stuck in the question, why a lot? Why is this happening to me? Is that a question that you kind of can get stuck in? Because obviously, it's on a wider scale? Why is this happening to the planet? That's a very big question to take on? Is that something you ever get bogged down with? Or does that not really factor into your thinking?

John:

Um, I kind of flip it around a little bit it's like, it's more, why am I the only one telling these stories? sometimes, why are these stories being, why are things so quiet in the world? And it becomes more of a responsibility and that responsibility weighs on me, you know, I can't write about... I used to write about three species a week or five, now it's maybe one or two a month because of all my other duties editing the site. What's gonna slip through the through humanity's fingers, if I don't get a chance to tell that story? And that, that that's the type of thing that weighs on you, you take on that responsibility a little bit too strongly.

Chris:

Are there other people like you in the industry? Is that voice on the increase or decrease?

John:

I think it is there. There are a number of really good writers about wildlife and the extinction crisis. In general it does tend to get eclipsed by climate change, and pollution and environmental justice, people talk about wildlife a lot less people write about wildlife a lot less. I remember talking to one editor who said, well, we'll never do another snake story because the first one we did did terribly. Well, you know, that's, that's pre determining what your readers are going to want to hear. So I think in general wildlife stories get a lot less focus in the press, I'd love to see more journalists and editors take on the challenge of the extinction crisis because it affects us all. You know, one of the reasons we're probably in this pandemic is because the wildlife trade. We're going to experience more diseases as humans and animals end up living closer together and it's more species end up crammed together into smaller places. These are stories that affect us all they affect our culture, they affect our habitat, you know, the muscles disappearing - there's your water quality. I'd love to see it's all focusing on wildlife stories, what that means to us, or even just wildlife stories for the sake of it, because they are amazing stories, there's amazing people telling them and working to save them and there's a moral imperative to try to protect them.

Claire:

Most species in the UK our only experience of them is in zoos. So even things like a raccoon, which seems to be like a pest in America, from what I get off TV, over here is a fascinating thing to see. And we've been to zoos in Croatia in places where they've had pigeons that we obviously have round here that are seen as vermin. So when we see giraffes and lions and elephants is just in zoos and with the with the good zoo, you know, there's you know, there's registered and regulated zoos and bad zoos, but with the zoos that are more in line with guidelines and things, are they a friend or foe of conservation work? Because it's hard to tell that they get a bad rep because of a lot of bad zoos. But is that always the case? Or are they actually helping some of the conservation work?

John:

You're right about that in that there are bad zoos and they do have a bad reputation. There are some people believe that any animal being kept in captivity is bad, and you can argue that, but a lot of zoos there are species that are only alive in captivity. And that's because of zoos, a lot of zoos fund, direct research in and habitat preservation directly where the animals live. There's a flip side, in that if you always go to if you go to zoom, you always see elephants and giraffes, you don't realise that they are necessarily that there, they are at risk in their natural environment. I mean, there are fewer giraffes now than elephants in Africa. I think the current number is something like 20,000 spread between a couple of different sub species, and they're rapidly on the decline. And, again, this speaks to the the extinction of experience. People forget that, when they encounter an animal in the wild, it's not going to be like your cat or your dog or an animal in a zoo. There's all these cases of people like it happens all the time in Yellowstone National Park, where people see a bison and decide they're going to walk up to it to get a photo because it's going to be tame, it's going to be just like a zoo animal, and then they get pounced and pounded upon and kicked and you see the video of them flying across the street. I think zoos offer a really good experience in probably going to zoos, when I was a kid was a foundational experience. Seeing some of these animals in the flesh was important. But experiencing as much as you can in the wild is still important too, as long as you have that respect and understanding. You don't want to scare a bird that's going to burn off all its reserves that it needs for hunting or feeding, because of your presence. But yeah, they're both important.

Chris:

With that in mind, if we could reward you with a ticket all expenses paid six months, let's say anyway.

Claire:

That's very generous!

Chris:

It's a big 'if'! Anywhere in the world, all expenses paid six months to go and just be with different species that you'd love. Which which part of the world you think you'd be travelling to?

John:

That's a good question. Probably Indonesia, the chance to see orangutans and potentially tigers and Asian elephants in the wild and, and everything else. There's a, there's a lot of amazing stuff there and to experience a culture that's vibrant as well, at the same time would be something else.

Chris:

Well, I think our time has come to ask you one final question. To end things off, then with all this in mind, what's your Herman?

John:

My Herman, you talk about it being something you're supposed to nurture and carry with you and carry on to other people. And I think it's the fact that as much pain as we can experience through the through the extinction crisis, there are positive stories to tell, and solutions, and it's important to tell those, it's important to celebrate life, while you can in one way or the other. And to remind yourself that life persists, and use any loss you have, I think one of the reasons I looked at that slug so beautifully, was because I knew we'd lost other things. I think sometimes, grief and loss can crystallise some beauty in your life, and some positive action. And I carry that with me.

Claire:

What a great sentiment from John to end with. Sometimes grief and loss can crystallise beauty in our lives, and some positive action, and we can carry that with us.

Chris:

You'll find John and his team's work at www.therevelator.org plus his email address, should you wish to encourage him in his solostalgic striving, and we'll put other links in the show notes as well.

Claire:

We'd really encourage you to follow him on Twitter and get informed about our planet and help him share what's going on in the natural world. And if you'd like to hear how other inspiring people have dealt with very different losses in their lives, you'll find everything you need to know on our website at www.thesilentwhy.com or our social media.

Chris:

If you value this episode, we'd really value your help, please post a rating or review of our voluntary work on Apple podcasts, Spotify or Podchaser. Every comment or star could help get this content in front of many more people.

Claire:

And there's more content from me in just a few days with my latest blog to read or listen to. Finally, we're gonna end with a quote from Albert Einstein."Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning."

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