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Why I couldn’t save the Northern White Rhino

A guest post by Martin Hassall, CEO and Founder of Meditation in the Workplace.

The Northern white rhino

As I write this article there are there are only three Northern White Rhinos left in the world and all these individuals are past reproduction age. Having recently reached the age of 54 years old, I never expected that a large mammal of the scale and majesty of the Northern White Rhino would be allowed to go extinct in my life time. Did I do something wrong? Could I have done more to help? Why couldn’t I save the Northern White Rhino?

When I was a teenager I was a member of Greenpeace. At that time, it seemed that people power would save the planet. Active environmental organisations such as Greenpeace had proved that, with world government agreement, endangered species such as the whale could be saved. In a spirit of optimism, I believed that we would stop nuclear proliferation and take the necessary steps to preserve the natural world for the benefit of future populations.

I now find that my 1980’s optimism was misplaced. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported in 2016 that if current trends continue to 2020 vertebrate populations may decline by an average of 67 per cent compared to 1970. Human beings are changing this planet at an unprecedented rate and this is adversely impacting the world’s climate, its oceans and the habitats required to preserve many of its species. There is very limited global governance and countries can do as they see fit with their wildlife environments, and often, many of their human populations.

We are encouraged to follow trends and the world media directs our attention to what it considers to be the most newsworthy of issues, which may not always be the most worthwhile. In many cases this aligns to the required viewing figures, advertising spend or newspaper sales. We seem to be continually distracted, either intentionally or unintentionally, away from the real priorities and needs of the planet and its inhabitants.

I suspect that most people do not want the Northern White Rhino to go extinct or any other species that is on the endangered list. The problem is that most of us feel small, powerless and unable to change the world for the better. Those of us who live in a democracy are privileged to have a regular vote on who we get to govern us, but practically this is often limited to a choice of one of two main parties and once in power governments often ignore their promises made and the priorities of the governed.

Perhaps, a different way of looking at the problem is to consider money as another form of energy. Rather like supplying power to a light bulb, if sufficient money is directed towards the construction of a city, then the city gets built. In this respect, on a personal basis, we really need to be mindful of where we spend our money, and where it is spent is very much aligned with our beliefs.

Beliefs and traditions often appear quite innocent, but are often more dangerous than we think that they are. An apparently innocuous belief that, more expensive, bottled water is in some way better than tap water can have a significant impact on the planet’s wellbeing. According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, annual consumption of plastic bottles is set to top half a trillion by 2021, far outstripping recycling efforts and jeopardising oceans, coastlines and other environments. The more specific case of the plight of the rhino populations relates to a plethora of beliefs and traditions relating to the use of rhino horn in Chinese medicine and also its traditional use in the manufacture of objects dating back to the 7th century AD.

The key point here is that every human being is a teacher and that we all teach what we believe. It doesn’t matter that those beliefs no longer make sense in a resource poor and highly populated world these traditions are still carried on. We give energy to our beliefs, in the form of money, and modern technology allows to harvest the planet’s resources with unprecedented efficiency.

Our beliefs and traditions, encourage us to be judgemental about each other, make us falsely think that we are different from each other and they often create separation between gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, religion, demographic and country. This in turn leads to a lack of understanding of our fellow human beings, which ultimately leads to tension, fear and ultimately conflict.

The current metaphor for the world is one of a game of winners and losers, powered by ignorance and supported by lethargy, where the likely outcome is that humankind will lose unless we all become more mindful of our actions and understand what makes us truly happy.

The challenge is that searching for happiness externally is a fruitless journey and always leaves us wanting more. If you reflect on your achievements in your life to date you will likely find that the joy that each accomplishment gave you was short lived. In the same way the happiness and reward of the poachers for killing a rhino will quickly fade and the use of the horn itself will serve tradition and belief, but not long-term happiness.

To be happy we need to look inside ourselves and analyse what we need rather than what we want. All of us have a strong need for love and when it is absent we hurt both ourselves, the people close to us and the environment around us. Conversely, when we love our self we become more mindful of those around us and our environment. We become more loving, less fearful, less lethargic and quietly, but assertively, we can let our local and global requirements for change become known.

By questioning each one of our beliefs we start to realise that many of our actions are based upon traditions that were perhaps relevant in the past but are now harmful and divisive in today’s fragile world.

To illustrate the need for change, in the USA, for the fiscal year of 2015, military spending was is projected to account for 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending, a total of $598.5 billion.

Could a small amount of that budget and military force could be diverted to a global environmental force whose role it would be to protect endangered species that can’t protect themselves? Would soldiers returning from protecting the endangered wildlife and wildernesses of the world be less mentally scarred than is currently so?

When today’s teenagers reach the age of 54 years, will they be mourning the loss of the great apes, the sharks of the oceans and the big cats in an acceleration of extinction events that they felt powerless to stop or will they force their governments to act?

I’m afraid my generation has failed our peoples and our planet — the extinction of the Northern White Rhino is a symbol of this failure and regret. It seems impossible to change what seems to be mankind’s rapid trajectory towards his own extinction, possibly in this century. I ask you to forget your beliefs and look internally for the love within you to find the external actions needed to save the planet and every sentient being on it.

Martin Hassall lives in Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom. He is a former financial services Chief Risk Officer, the author of ‘Take Three Breaths: A Short Course in Meditation and Mindfulness’, and CEO and Founder of Meditation in the Workplace.

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