When Kate Rawles travelled 8,288 miles across South America, it wasn’t done out of pure self-interest. Despite her love of cycling and mountains, she was doing it to raise awareness for an environmental crisis many of us are perhaps largely ignorant of.
The Sixth Great Extinction is the name given to what many scientists see as the most damaging wipe-out of species our planet has ever experienced.
Kate was taking part in the Life Cycle Challenge, which saw her ride a bike built totally out of bamboo from Colombia to Cape Horn. The bike was built by the Bamboo Bicycle Club from London and built using bamboo grown at the Eden Project, Cornwall. Kate believes this makes it the UK’s first homegrown bicycle.
Her mission now she has returned to the UK is to use her adventure to raise awareness on the biodiversity loss that formed the theme of her trip.
Extinction of the masses
Scientific analysis has found that we have lost billions of local, natural populations of species. The extent of the loss is far worse than had been previously feared. The principle causes of the loss are human overpopulation and overconsumption. The irony to this is that the survival of human civilisation is also under threat through our own actions.
The challenge is way more complicated than pure extinction of certain species. The findings show that up to 50% of all animal species have been lost in recent decades. This means that the population loss affects species not currently considered endangered. Almost half of all land mammals have lost around 80% of their population over the last century.
Wildlife is dying out due to habitat destruction, overhunting, toxic pollution, invasion by alien species and of course climate change. The loss of wildlife witnessed across Australia at the latter end of 2019 is just one media exposed example. The vast majority of loss has been going on without public scrutiny for decades.
The lion is cited as a great case in point. Historically lions were distributed over most of Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East and north-eastern India. Now the vast majority of lion populations are gone.
Not too late
According to Prof Paul Ehrlich at Stanford University, we still have time. But drastic and swift action is required. This includes radically changing our levels of consumption, protecting wildlife reserves and implementing diversity protection laws. Ultimately, the experts believe we need an international institution to fund global wildlife conservation that all countries are bought into.
And whilst the research suggests we are globally blind to the threat, there are examples of good practice, with the safeguarding of lions in South Africa being a good example.
Nevertheless, the consequences of not acting are unimaginable and bring to bear the relevance and value of people like Kate in helping to bring it into public consciousness.
Kate’s dilemma and challenge
Getting to South America obviously implies air flight. However, Kate found it difficult to reconcile the act of consuming two tonnes of c02 emissions with her trip’s purpose. In the end she decided to travel by cargo ship, reducing the c02 impact to 50kg, whilst obviously adding to the duration of the trip.
Once there, her greatest challenge was knowing where each day would begin and end. Despite trying to plot it out from the UK in advance, the reality of head and tail winds simply meant any one day could turn out very different. Days to find food and set up camp were grossly inconsistent.
A part of Kate’s goal was to take in areas of the planet currently under threat of extinction. The Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve has coloured lakes with thousands of pink flamingos and all sorts of other birds. And of course, entering the rainforest provided a density of life and sounds that we so badly need to preserve. Its comparison with the salt flats of Bolivia, a melting pot of solid white ocean where nothing lives, was particularly pertinent. How long before the rainforest itself becomes a space devoid of its original natural life?