Biodiversity Successes and Failures

Disasters and Solutions — Part 2

Biodiversity Successes and Failures

Wall Street burns, wealth accumulation vanishes overnight, but the real wealth — as every villager dependent on safe drinking water and healthy soils can attest to — is lodged in the integrity of ecosystems that we will either come to understand and make peace with, or vanish.

Australian FernThe huge lingering question mark was posed many years ago by biologist E. O. Wilson, the world’s authority on ants (who recently turned to writing his first novel to explore the concept of free will, the brilliance of ants and their strange relationship to ungainly, bipedal, largely carnivorous creatures called Man). Wilson asked, “Is Man Suicidal?” in a cover story for the New York Times. Now we must reconsider the terror that he evinced in his provocative manner: if there is a God, is it patient enough to withstand one blow after another, caused at that very exact juncture wherein human beings partake of, but mostly exploit the natural world? One historian likened this syndrome to the British who were said to have backed their trucks up to the sub-continent of India and — true to Western biocultural imperialism — driven off with the goods. It was that simple. Similarly, 19th century settlers to New Zealand (like Utopian polymath Samuel Butler who leased a massive sheep station in Central Otago (eastern South island) named Mesopotamia (it still exists) and spent about four years in all making enough money to get back to Europe and make his career as a novelist, literary critic and photographer. New Zealand immigrants in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries cut down more indigenous forest, in a shorter period of time, than in any other region on the planet. Today, many New Zealanders comfort themselves with what has become an advertising mantra, namely, “clean, green New Zealand.” It is not entirely true, though visitors from far more decimated parts of the world see New Zealand through happily rose-colored glasses and, in fact, New Zealand conservationists are among the most ardent, thoughtful and decisive environmentalists in the world. The same can be said of the countries growing animal rights constituencies, mostly on account of the organization SAFE (Save Animals From Exploitation) based in Christchurch.

All these avenues of historic precedent and current species extirpation come down to the same terrible nightmare: the destruction of Earth by one species. This fact is discernible each day on countless websites that provide images and data on the more than 14,000 Critically Endangered, Threatened, Rare or Uncommon Species on Earth, at present. But remember, that 14,000-+ figure is taken from less than 50,000 organisms studied in any depth to-date, when, in fact, we know there are at least 1.8 million species which have been identified, out of possibly as many as 100 million others (including bacteria and viruses) waiting to be discovered.

Part 1: Ecological Challenge: Overconsumption


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