The “spring breakers” hit Cancun. Photo: Getty
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Escape to Mexico: the locals brace themselves for the arrival of the “spring breakers”

The horror, the horror.

Escape to Mexico
Overseas Radio Network
 

In the villages along the beaches of south-eastern Mexico, local people are bracing themselves for the Easter influx of young Americans known, with a shudder, as the “spring breakers”. My friend Clementino, who shines shoes in Cancún, swaps horror stories about it all day long and says even his mother back in Xcalak (population 375) has heard tales about “crazy people on the streets”. On the weekly show Escape to Mexico (Wednesdays, 4pm), the fiftysomething expat presenter, Henry Altman, retired from selling luxury golf course homes in Texas, ostensibly defends the hordes. “They’re nice kids, ya know! OK, some of them do get a little buzzed, get too loud and . . . stuff happens.”

Then he tells a long story – complex, meandering and quite possibly furious – about a bachelor party from New York that came to stay a few doors down from him in his gated community and invited him for a T-bone but got too drunk to spark up the barbecue until 1am, just as Henry was preparing to go to bed. “That was a pretty funny incident,” says Henry, sadly.

It’s the classic fiftysomething American-in-Mexico conundrum. Ah, to be Willem Dafoe in Born on the Fourth of July, staring adventure squarely in the eye, with a tequila worm between the teeth and a dusky chica unzipping one’s combats – instead of helplessly referring to fellow expats as “the private sector” and ordering room service to the condo where you enjoy jazz records and work on a painting that is provisionally entitled Moon Over the Dance Floor.

So the show goes on, turning every thought to the whys and wherefores of Colorado teenagers speeding along the Yucatán sands in ATVs at the tail end of a six-day bender, off their heads on coco locos and industrial solvents, with their feet hooked in the steering wheel and some blondes on the back peeling off their boob tubes.

Eventually, over an hour into the show, Henry changes the subject, turning to another of his favourite themes: guns, which he’s all for in theory, but then again . . . “Ya know, I ask myself sometimes, does a person actually need 10,000 rounds of ammunition in banana clips, just sitting around? They do not! Hey – here’s Ron, calling from Durable Goods in Tulum . . .”

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Russia's Revenge

Photo: Getty
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Out with the old: how new species are evolving faster than ever

A future geologist will look back to the present day as a time of diversification, as well as extinction.

Human population growth, increased consumption, hunting, habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species and now climate change are turning the biological world on its head. The consequence is that species are becoming extinct, perhaps faster than at any time since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago. This is an inconvenient truth.

But there are also convenient truths. Britain has gained about 2,000 new species over the past two millennia, because our predecessors converted forests into managed woodlands, orchards, meadows, wheat fields, roadsides, hedgerows, ponds and ditches, as well as gardens and urban sprawl, each providing new opportunities.

Then we started to transport species deliberately. We have the Romans to thank for brown hares and the Normans for rabbits. In the 20th century, ring-necked parakeets escaped from captivity and now adorn London’s parks and gardens.

Climate warming is bringing yet more new species to our shores, including little egrets and tree bumblebees, both of which have colonised Britain in recent years and then spread so far north that I can see them at home in Yorkshire. Convenient truth No 1 is that more species have arrived than have died out: most American states, most islands in the Pacific and most countries in Europe, including Britain, support more species today than they did centuries ago.

Evolution has also gone into overdrive. Just as some species are thriving on a human-dominated planet, the same is true of genes. Some genes are surviving better than others. Brown argus butterflies in my meadow have evolved a change in diet (their caterpillars now eat dove’s-foot cranesbill plants, which are common in human-disturbed landscapes), enabling them to take advantage of a warming climate and spread northwards.

Evolution is a second convenient truth. Many species are surviving better than we might have expected because they are becoming adapted to the human-altered world – although this is not such good news when diseases evolve immunity to medicines or crop pests become resistant to insecticides.

A third convenient truth is that new species are coming into existence. The hybrid Italian sparrow was born one spring day when a male Spanish sparrow (the “original” Mediterranean species) hitched up with a female house sparrow (which had spread from Asia into newly created farmland). The descendants of this happy union live on, purloining dropped grains and scraps from the farms and towns of the Italian peninsula. Some of those grains are wheat, which is also a hybrid species that originated as crosses between wild grasses in the Middle East.

This is not the only process by which new species are arising. On a much longer time scale, all of the species that we have released on thousands of islands across the world’s oceans and transported to new continents will start to become more distinct in their new homes, eventually separating into entirely new creatures. The current rate at which new species are forming may well be the highest ever. A future geologist will look back to the present day as a time of great diversification on Earth, as well as a time of extinction.

The processes of ecological and evolutionary change that brought all of Earth’s existing biological diversity into being – including ourselves – is continuing to generate new diversity in today’s human-altered world. Unless we sterilise our planet in some unimagined way, this will continue. In my book Inheritors of the Earth, I criss-cross the world to survey the growth in biological diversity (as well as to chart some of the losses) that has taken place in the human epoch and argue that this growth fundamentally alters our relationship with nature.

We need to walk a tightrope between saving “old nature” (some of which might be useful) and facilitating what will enable the biological world to adjust to its changed state. Humans are integral to Earth’s “new nature”, and we should not presume that the old was better than the new.

“Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction” by Chris D Thomas is published by Allen Lane

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder