Earth currently faces a global extinction crisis that threatens the stability of all life on the planet.
Through human impact and climate change, countless species of plants and animals alike are disappearing at rates 1000 times faster than occur naturally in the wild.
Now, more than ever, it is essential that environmental educators promote public awareness of biodiversity and the roles played by the massive variety of life-forms on Earth.
If we fail in this mission, all too many species will go the way of the dodo. This might sound alarming. But facing the harsh reality is essential to creating solutions for the benefit of all.
Life exists as a result of evolution over millions of years. Each species has adapted to the particular part of the natural world within which it lives. Each species interrelates with other species to create healthy ecosystems that have – until recently – survived for millennia. This immense history has created a world whose plants and animals and micro-organisms are both individually and collectively an irreplaceable treasure.
It is widely recognized within the scientific community that biodiversity contributes to human life in various ways which should give us cause to increase the value we place on each species individually. As Professor E.O Wilson asserts in Planet Earth: The Future (what the experts say): “[Biodiversity] supports our own lives. If we eliminated even more than a small part of the biodiversity, the world would become a lot less stable and we would be much more subject to crises – changes in the environment that would profoundly affect us. But more than that, we already can measure the ecosystem services that this conglomerate of species…give us scot free. And that’s approximately equal to the entire domestic product of the world, if you could put a dollar value on it” (E.O Wilson, cited in Planet Earth: The Future (what the experts say), 2006, p.30).
Whilst many conservationists present a moral argument for the stewardship of the natural world, there are other (more human-focused) reasons for preserving biological diversity.
As Tony Juniper says: “For a start, all of our food ultimately derives from biological systems. So do a lot of our medicines. A lot of our industrial products are based upon chemicals that we’ve taken from nature. Biodiversity is very much part, therefore, of the global economy, very much part of our well-being” (cited in Planet Earth, p. 40).
Given too that Earth is the only planet within our reach that supports life, we have an obligation as a thinking and scientific and compassionate species to prioritize the preservation of the diverse life that exists here. “Surely it’s our responsibility to document carefully, to understand and husband this incredibly unique planetary resource” (Ibid).
It goes without saying, however, that the moral argument for the preservation of biodiversity is as valid as ever.
Humans did not invent life on Earth. And whilst some people subscribe to the genetic fantasy of Jurassic Park, it remains a fantasy (and a problematic one at that). We did not create planetary life.
We have no means to recreate what we destroy. There’s no bringing back the Dodo, or the Tasmanian Tiger, or countless species of plants and fish and birds.
It doesn’t take much to see that, despite the hubris of human ambition, our right to destroy Earth’s biodiversity is really no right at all.
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