The difference between survival and extinction is a fine line that every species on earth rides.
Since humankind took over as the dominant species on earth, we have put many species into irreversible states of extinction. The current extinction rate varies among scientists, but there are at least 38,500 known species that have been classified as critically endangered, many of them due to human activity (iucnredlist.org).
Despite these numbers, there is a dangerous level of apathy and ignorance about the world’s biodiversity and the importance of protecting endangered species from extinction.
As a high school student who has always had a passion for nature and a desire to have a career with it, the health of the earth’s ecosystem is very relevant to me. So I feel the need to make this problem known and take it more seriously.
More of us need to understand that it is in the best interests of humanity to preserve the biodiversity of our planet and protect endangered species from extinction as the health of the biosphere affects our own lives and humanity as a whole.
On the one hand, the preservation of ecosystems has a positive effect on human health. Studies have shown that as nature deteriorates, disease breaks out more frequently. Of the emerging viral diseases, 70% spread from animals to humans, and when humans are exposed to wild animals – as likely in the COVID-19 pandemic – we are exposed to the potential diseases that they transmit (conservation.org ).
Ecosystems with high biodiversity also have cleaner water and air, medicinal plants, and fertile land for agriculture. To keep biodiversity healthy, more places will have all of these listed places, disease will be less common, and fewer people will be exposed and possibly die.
A 2018 article by ecologist Carl Safina entitled “In Defense of Biodiversity: Why Protecting Species from Extinction Matters” refutes an article by R. Alexander Pyron, “We Don’t Need to Save Endangered Species. Extinction is part of evolution ”.
In this rebuttal, he reviews Pyron’s worrying positions about endangered species. Pyron explains that “the only reason we should conserve biodiversity is to create a stable future for humans,” and that species that are on the verge of extinction are “being replaced by a dozen or a hundred new species that develop later ”.
These thought processes reflect a point of view that we shouldn’t be so concerned with the decline in populations of nonhuman organisms as evolution will replace them. The problem with this is, as Safina states in his refutation, that evolution is a process that often lasts for millennia at best and that future organisms can only develop from what survives today. Once one species is extinct, no other will emerge from its lineage. Extinctions, which appear minor, will only become more common over the next few decades. When enough rubble starts to crumble from a building, it will eventually collapse.
While the protection of endangered species and the entire biosphere cannot be accomplished by one person, it is important that you read this to understand the importance of each species to the present and future of Earth’s ecosystems.
I implore you to keep an eye out for any mention of conservation on local or global news, and most importantly, to personally help the cause if possible. You can do this by donating to conservation organizations like the World Wildlife Fund or Oceana, or by volunteering for a local nonprofit that can improve your resume, or simply by catching up on current and relevant environmental issues like climate change and pollution.
As you can safely infer from all of this, the health of the earth is the health of mankind. If it goes down, so will we. If ever a day comes when the earth is robbed of its resources, beauty, and life beyond the absolute fundamentals of human survival, what would be the meaning of life?
Well, we could never completely destroy nature even if we wanted to. It’s immensely flexible and constantly changing, but as previous mass extinctions and the current state of the world have shown, the life it harbors is fragile. If we neglect the damage we have done to it and consider ourselves separate from it, humans and myriad other species will fall.
It is still possible to change the way we act and we must take the initiative. We may have been too late to save some species that our actions wiped out, but we can still save many with us. We can spare our future generations the stress of cleaning up our chaos – or worse, the void of never experiencing a living and diverse earth.
The more we spread knowledge of what can be done and the more we free ourselves from toxic apathy about the well-being of our planet, the more we can finally begin to make changes.
Owen Papegaay, 16, is a junior at the Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning.