Notre Dame Cathedral burns, and pocketbooks open globally to finance reconstruction. Destruction of Buddha statues by the Taliban brings condemnation from world leaders. The Right Whale is headed for extinction, yet new permits for seismic testing are issued.

Current rates of species extinction are estimated to be 1000 times greater than background. For a sapient species, we have our priorities backward. We can bemoan the loss of cultural or artistic objects, but our real concern and effort should be put to the preservation of species. The biosphere that we depend on functions as a result of the collective activities and interactions among some 8,000,000 species on Earth. Each time we lose one, we are further unraveling the fabric of the web of life.

Loss of top predators promotes a cascading set of changes in terrestrial and marine ecosystems, often from an unnatural proliferation of species at the lower trophic levels. Loss of insects, such as bees, eliminates the pollinators of plants, some of which are essential crop plants for humans. The loss of ash trees will forever change the character of forests in the eastern United States.

Certainly some artistic works are so brilliant and intricate that it is hard to imagine how they were produced, or how they might be reproduced. But, the loss of a species eliminates the genetic legacy of millions of years of evolution, which will never be restored by the human hand. I doubt that the marvels of molecular biology will bring back species that have gone extinct, nor should we count on promises that such genetic engineering may do so in the near future. Overall, high species diversity in nature results in greater productivity for human use and survival. (See: https://blogs.nicholas.duke.edu/citizenscientist/why-species-matter/). We need to preserve the heritage of species on all corners of the Earth.

The legacies of human ingenuity are important to us, but losses from the biosphere are priceless.

3 thoughts on “Extinction

  1. Bill, As you say extinction comes as an end point in a cascade of events. I wonder which cascade humans are on.

  2. My concern is that some of our fixes are causing irreparable changes. A field of solar panels completely changes the ecology of an area. The ground is shaded, the growing species are blocked so the birds, insects, etc. are not fed. The surface reflectivity is completely changed. I have not seen anything that discusses these effects.
    We know that wind farms can cause destruction of birds because they are on the major flyways. That a person can have a job warning companies to turn off their windmills because the birds are migrating is sad. How many birds have been destroyed before this?
    The generation of electricity in the future can become a serious problem (the nuclear power plants are being decommissioned, some people are against hydroelectric plants because of the changes to the landscape and ecology, wind farms are on the major flyways for migrating birds, etc.) but everyone is encouraged to go all electric.
    What changes are solar panels on the roofs causing? What if these solar panels are not maintained? What is the necessary maintenance? If there is a change in the reflectivity of surfaces in an area, what does that do? What is the effect of the power lines? If we continue to develop fields of solar panels what will happen to the wildlife in those areas? Will it have an effect on water movement into the ground? What about flowers that feed bees that pollinate the surrounding fields?
    I am not sure how to go about studying some of this but it needs to be done. I think the “fix” may turn out to be worse than the problem.

  3. Great article and a fantastic blog! Educating masses about the ill effects on environment is a must, if we want to preserve human kind. This blog is doing a wonderful job regarding that. It is time that we do our bit in reducing our carbon footprints, so that the natural food chain balance can be repaired. It’s all connected, and the surge in global renewable energy capacity is a positive sign.

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