STANDS FOR EXTINCT
is EXTINCT; he thinks everything bad. That was not invented, when he
was a lad."
the ditty for the letter X in "Old Fashioned Mother Goose Nursery
Rhymes." Except for X and U (the unicorn), the letters of the alphabet
in this bizarre little book are represented by real animals. Apparently,
the authors, none of whom appear to have been a goose, could not think
of any animal to represent the letter X.
across the book recently in my basement. Having heard that some parents
today censor Mother Goose because they consider the stories a bit too
violent for children, I decided to take a look at this edition published
nearly a century ago. Indeed, Jack and Jill did fall down the hill,
and the sparrow did kill cock robin. But, hey, those things happen.
Then I looked at the drawing of X, a hollow eyed, grinning creature
wearing a topcoat and vest. Its scary face resembles the skull of an
evil, large beaked bird with teeth.
not caring much for the animal pictures in this book as a child and
being, in fact, a little frightened. Upon reflection I wonder if reading
a book that makes one a little frightened of EXTINCT might perhaps have
been a good idea. Growing up with concern, or even dread, about having
more EXTINCTs around is not such a bad thing - then or now.
today are aware that the extinction rate of plants and animals worldwide
has increased to a level unprecedented in human history. Everyone should
feel a little uneasy about the prospects of future extinctions. When
we lose a species, we decrease the world's biological diversity. High
biological diversity broadens the base of raw materials and biological
products we depend on for existence. No reasonable person today should
deny that plants and animals, some yet to be discovered, provide the
source for new foods and medicines. Also, the biodiversity inherent
in natural systems enhances the pleasure and emotional health of many
who supports current activities that can lead to the demise of another
species is rationalizing what extinction means. Old-fashioned extinctions,
such as Tyrannosaurus rex and the other dinosaurs and the giant ferns
of the Carboniferous Period, are not something to feel guilty about.
Our ancestors had nothing to do with the disappearance of any of these
creatures millions of years ago. But a little closer to home are the
modern extinctions, those clearly caused by humans elimination of the
giant birds known as moas in New Zealand; the loss of the dodo on the
island of Mauritius; the extinction of passenger pigeons here at home.
We can regret these losses and maybe harbor a little ancestral guilt,
but we must accept them as a done deal from which we can now only learn.
extinction, however, is something we can and should do something about.
The marine fisheries situation alone should convince us, especially
people who once took eating Atlantic codfish for granted. They are not
eating much of it these days. Codfish and many other ocean fish have
gone commercially extinct or are headed in that direction. One reason
is that more attention was paid to quick profits and politics than to
environmental predictions. A problem with fisheries management, as with
many other environmental issues, is that economic interests and political
rhetoric too often prevail over predictions by research ecologists that
foretell of potentially catastrophic results. We should reverse this
situation and pay attention to scientists rather than politicians who
are representing special interest groups. Even The Wall Street Journal
at one time blamed the reduction in codfish on "years of overfishing
species face many threats, which we and our political representatives
should be concerned about. We should be frightened by the face of extinction
and teach our children to fear it too. Nonetheless I'm not recommending
they read the old Mother Goose book.
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