Here's How Understanding Animal Communication Can Help Us Save Them

When we're talking about finding a solution to climate change, it's easy to feel stuck and powerless. It can feel like there are limited possibilities to effect change and take action. Will the inevitable outcome be an apocalyptic doomsday? Someone, please get this planet some help!

When we're overloaded by information or become too fixated on achieving the end goal, it's easy to forget that the solution to climate change comes in all shapes and sizes, each with a role to play. Every one of us can contribute something valuable, no matter how small or obscure it might seem.

A story we can still learn from

The other day an episode from the Invisibilia podcast caught my attention and gave me hope. The episode discussed the immense challenge we face in overcoming climate change and empathised with how genuinely overwhelming this is. As I kept listening, I was awed by the story of a previous environmental campaign - the anti-whaling campaign- that succeeded against all odds and the new project it inspired that could help us with our current fight.

Nowadays, the anti-whaling campaign feels like a distant fight, but during the 1970s and 80s, it was a problem as hot as climate change. When you hear anti-whaling or Save the Whales, what comes to mind? Greenpeace? The Rainbow Warrior? Images of daring environmental activists braving the open seas on a rickety boat? Yes, these are the household brands of the campaign.

However, one aspect of the movement had an extraordinary effect on banning commercial whaling that we don't necessarily think about. Have you listened to the Songs of the Humpback Whale? The album was produced by scientist Roger Payne and allowed millions of people worldwide to listen to recordings of humpback whales. For the first time, the whales were being heard. The voiceless were given a voice. The Humpback Whale even shared its story at the United Nations when its songs were played at congressional meetings.

Once the songs of the whales were publicised, the tide of the campaign changed. They made people cry and helped people admire and empathise with whales instead of seeing them as solely oil, soap, and pet food. The International Whaling Committee responded to growing pressure and in 1982 issued a moratorium to stop commercial whaling. To this day, the world's love and appreciation for whales have been preserved, with only Norway, Iceland, and Japan continuing to commercially whale after the IWC's moratorium.

A different solution

Having saved the whales, Roger Payne is working on a new project with a microbiologist and two technologists, including Aza Raskin, the inventor of the infinite scroll. Yep, that's right, the guy who has enabled you to seamlessly watch Tik-Tok videos is also trying to combat climate change. Together they've come up with an idea, so outside-of-the-box, they've basically recycled the box and repurposed it into something else altogether.

The Earth Species Project proposes translating animal sounds into the human language to understand what they're saying. This translation will be done through machine learning, which has already visually represented human languages. It's mind-boggling, but this is the gist of how it works. Languages such as English, Spanish, and Japanese have already been mapped out. Each word in the language is represented by a dot. Words that relate to one another are clustered together, and the dots form a unique shape for the language. For animals, their sounds will be recorded and then decoded, organised, and represented by artificial intelligence through machine learning in the same way as human languages. A translation will be possible if there are similarities in the animal's language and human language shapes.

The idea is inspired by the same principles of The Songs of the Humpback Whale. Fundamentally, we are all connected because underneath our differences, we share the same experiences. We experience emotions, we have families, we need to survive. So if humans can better understand and relate to the world around them, it can be a catalyst to positively changing our behaviours. If we can hear how animals and nature are communicating to us, we'll be forced to respond to them differently.

"If you look at, like, these movements where there is a sort of a social awakening, they happened when groups that didn't have voice gained voice because that's true for the LGBTQ movement, for women's suffrage, for the civil rights movement," said Raskin.

More research and analysis are being conducted to develop the project's technology and determine if understanding animals will motivate the correct response. In the meantime, the vital message to take from all this is that every action we take can count for something. We don't have to rely on just one approach.

Just keep swimming

Stories like these are refreshing because they remind us that there are 7 billion of us on this planet, each with our own ways of thinking and doing. There's so much inspiration to draw from.

Although there are absolute facts about the large-scale changes we need to impose, your actions will still make a difference. If you're unsure about the impact your individual efforts are actually making, just remember that it wasn't policy or activism alone that saved the whales. It won't be policy or activism alone that will save the planet. It will be the combined effort of every single one of our actions. If we work together, we will be immeasurably powerful.

Header Image: Unsplash

Written by Linda Hoang

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