Give a gift that sustains life on Earth

Before heading out to start your holiday shopping today, pause one moment to think about African elephants, polar bears and the Pacific walrus. They are among the world’s animals whose existence is threatened.

The World Wildlife Fund’s annual Living Planet Report warns us that human activity is outstripping the Earth’s resources, and has killed off 52 percent of the world’s mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish in just the last 40 years. Imagine how that pace will increase over the next four decades.

Compared to babies born today, those of us over 40 came into a world teeming with wildlife.

But thanks to over-fishing, over-hunting, deforestation, excessive carbon emissions and the inability to reduce global population growth, we have accelerated the loss of non-human life.

Why not use Black Friday to think about giving gifts that won’t break easily, don’t require batteries and could, quite possibly, help save a planet? Durable, recyclable, and locally produced toys, art, food, crafts and clothing are all available to consumers who care. A contribution in the names of your loved ones to conservation and environmental organizations like WWF can also help; it won’t thrill any children on Christmas morning, for sure, but it could possibly ensure those children’s children don’t equate elephants and polar bears with dinosaurs.

Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels would also be a great Christmas gift to the natural world. Our insatiable thirst for oil has reached the Democratic Republic of Congo, where new technologies that permit deeper drilling have encouraged oil companies to explore for oil. The resulting loss of habitat for forest elephants, along with poaching for ivory, mean these great animals may well become extinct in our lifetime.

A new study by Environment Canada and the U.S. Geological Survey found that polar bears in eastern Alaska and western Canada have declined by 40 percent due primarily to the loss of arctic sea ice floes, which they travel to feast on seals.

Disappearing sea ice is also a problem for the Pacific walrus. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that 35,000 walrus have gone ashore in Alaska, where they are vulnerable to predators, because they normally safely rest on sea ice. In both cases, climate change resulting from overuse of fossil fuels is to blame.

Freshwater creatures are doing even worse than the world average, declining at a rate of 76 percent over the 40-year period.

The WWF has sounded a hopeful note, however. It says because the damage is a consequence of the way humans live, we can choose to correct the course of history.

We can do that by using public transit more, and driving personal cars less. We can recycle, compost and support sustainable businesses. We can purchase fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, and lumber certified by the Timber Stewardship Council.

It would also help build appreciation for wildlife and the natural world that sustains us if parents reduced their children’s screen time and reconnected them with the outdoors.

This is a season for reverence, gratitude and generosity. We should cultivate those feelings for all living creatures, not just those we wrap gifts for.