NOW MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER
by Whit Gibbons
August 5, 2007
book "Biodiversity," edited by Edward O. Wilson and Frances
M. Peter, presented some alarming facts that we should not ignore if we
enjoy living on the planet earth as it is now. Nearly two decades later,
we will be well served to reconsider some of the concepts brought to light.
My impression is that most people, including many members of Congress,
still do not grasp the urgency or the depth of the problem.
we are measurably losing life on a daily, even hourly, basis. Tropical
forests continue to be a prime example because their destruction is causing
a species extinction rate rivaling anything the earth has experienced
in 65 million years. Two points need to be considered. First, some scientists
believe giant meteorites colliding with the earth caused the previous
mass extinctions. Even if human civilization had been in place, we could
not have prevented the inevitable destruction. Second, even the great
elimination of species that occurred at the end of the last two geologic
eras resulted primarily in the loss of animal species. Plants, the basis
of food chains, were not as severely affected. Today, we are rapidly losing
both plant and animal species in the tropics. But today we are the meteors.
We can control the path we take.
in the Temperate Zones just do not appreciate the impact tropical rain
forest destruction has had and will continue to have on the rest of the
world, despite the fact that some effects are becoming apparent to us
in North America. For example, many of the birds that visit our neighborhoods
from spring to autumn in North America spend the winter in tropical forests.
As these forests disappear, so will the birds. The process is gradual,
a creeping problem that does not alarm us in the early stages. But how
are you going to feel when you suddenly realize you haven't seen a hummingbird
or swallow in three years?
simply an obvious example of what we will lose when the tropical forests
are gone. The tropics represent the savings account of the world's biodiversity
bank. Of the world's land surface, the tropics constitute less than 8%,
yet more than half the plant and animal species on earth live there. More
than 40% of what was once tropical forest is now gone, primarily due to
forest removal and other human activities. One prediction is that all
the tropical forests will be gone by the year 2135. How many plants or
animals have special traits that could be of value in the field of medicine?
Every time another species goes extinct, we lose an opportunity to find
of why we need to preserve the world's biodiversity are endless. But doomsday
predictions usually annoy people. They engender a feeling of helplessness,
and one tends to become angry with the messenger or refuse to heed the
message. However, there is some hope, because we the people can control
the situation. Through education and, if necessary, regulation we can
prevent environmental destruction, especially by those who do so for their
educated society cannot plead ignorance about whether measures should
be taken to assure the welfare of our natural environments and the species
that comprise them. We can teach our children that every species is valuable
and that we have the right to use and enjoy them but not to annihilate
them or wantonly destroy their habitats. We can promote scientific efforts
that acquire more knowledge about the ecology, distribution patterns,
medical potentials, and food opportunities of the plants and animals of
Let us spread
the message, to our children, our elected officials, and each other that
in addition to potential value for us, each species has its own intrinsic
value, its own right to exist. We can become a society that appreciates
the importance of biodiversity and how to preserve it for posterity. Then
we won't have to listen to doomsday predictions about what will happen
if we don't.
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