Thursday, September 29, 2011

Countdown to extinction


"Do you really care if a spotted owl dies?"
Someone once asked me that back in 1992 in the wake of the owl habitat v. Pacific Northwest logging jobs debate of the day.  When viewed in the tunnel vision approach of the everyday, I suppose I wouldn't be losing any sleep over it and it spotted owl extinction wouldn't change the fact that I need to work and pay bills.  So it wouldn't matter...yet.

What we fail to realize is that every organism fills a purpose in the massive and incredibly interconnected ecological system of our world.  Knock a part of this system out and things begin to go out of balance.  I don't like frogs.  They terrify me in the way that spiders and snakes get to other people.  I don't know why but there it is.  What if I somehow willed that all frogs and toads were erased from existence?  I might feel a bit safer but we would soon find ourselves with an overabundance of flies and mosquitoes living unchecked.  Certain species of birds feed on frogs and the population of those birds would begin to dwindle.  Birds that also eat bugs.  That means more bugs.  Bugs that eat crops.  Crops that we need to eat.  Guess it's a good thing I'm not God.
What brings all of this up?  I came across an article that reports that nearly one quarter of the animal species on the continent of Europe are near extinction.  Just as I was saying, these animals all fill a need.  “Life is possible because of biodiversity,” said Ana Nieto, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “Everything comes from biodiversity. Everything comes from having well-functioning ecosystems.”  Church.
It isn't just a matter of the ethical treatment of animals or "let's save the cute, furry guys like the Iberian lynx and the panda."  Less "sexy" poster children for conservation are needed, too.  I'm talking organisms like bees.  Bees are needed to pollinate. Pollination is needed to grow fruits and vegetables, the act of which is an entire industry that employs millions of people let alone one that produces food for us to eat.  Pollination is also needed to keep forests healthy.  Without forests, water does not go through its natural cleaning process.  Soil gets looser and floods easily, leading to mudslides.  You'd think we'd care about such things.

But no, we just keep pushing it.  What, us worry?  Top o' the food chain, ma.  We'll keep overfishing the seas of tuna.  We'll blindly eat our way out of house and home until the day comes there's nothing left and we're wondering why.  Well, a few of us won't be wondering.  We'll know exactly why.  We'll be shaking our heads sadly as we find ourselves in a scene remarkably similar to one from Blade Runner: "Is that a real snake?"  "Are you kidding?  It's synthetic."  

So why should we care if animals go extinct?  You should probably remind yourself that human beings are animals.  Once we've eliminated all the others, guess which one is left?


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