Saving the world and us
It is inevitable that some of the 8 million or so species of plant and animals on our Earth will go extinct within the next few decades. Some will die out this year. In many ways, nature is no guardian of biodiversity.
Human activity is accelerating the rate of die-offs, scientists warn. They cite climate change, destruction of habitats for development, pollution and allowing invasive species to decimate native plants and animals, among other factors.
More than a million species are in grave danger, a United Nations report released this week warns. The document, more than a thousand pages long, relies on an exhaustive analysis conducted by more than 450 researchers.
It is easy to argue — on a scientific basis — with some environmental alarmists. But in this situation, the peril is very real.
Tigers are an excellent case study. Just six subspecies of them exist, down from nine 80 years ago. It is entirely possible the last tiger in the wild will be gone within the next decade.
World Wildlife Fund officials say there may be reason for hope. The population of wild tigers may be increasing slightly, they say. The number, at last estimate: 3,890. Yes, fewer than 4,000.
But many other species have no hope of survival. Nearly all of them are not known by laypeople, but some could hold the keys to curing dread diseases or benefiting humankind in other ways.
What can we do? Various steps can be taken. Reducing destruction of habitat, such as that occurring in the Amazon rainforest, would help. Better control of invasive species would do a lot of good. So would preservation of critical ecosystems, such as that in which The Nature Conservancy specializes.
Not every species of plant and animal can be saved. That simply is not how nature works, or functioned before Homo sapiens became a factor. But when and where it is feasible to alter our behavior to avoid driving plants and animals extinct, doing so may be in our own best interests.