Thursday, March 24, 2011

"We share the earth not only with our fellow human beings, but with all the other creatures."
 - The Dalai Lama

Today's post is going to be a bit atypical from my normal entries. Usually I like to highlight actions that we can each take in our everyday lives in order to help conserve our planets natural resources, but today I want to step back for a moment and consider what's at stake if we don't start taking care of our planet. Living in our concrete villages in middle of towns and cities, seemingly separate from the natural world, it's very easy to forget about all of the amazing species that share our planet with us. While taking care of our home is important to secure the future of our own species, it is also imperative to the future of these incredible forms of life:

Some of these are cuter than others, but I think it would be difficult for anyone to contest that each of these species represents a beautiful contribution to the diversity and wonder that we have here on Earth. These animals, the anglerfish, kiwi, bumblebee bat, echidna, and dugong, all have one thing in common: they are endangered. There are so few of them left on our planet that they have been listed on an official register of animals that could potentially disappear entirely within the next few years.
Today's post is not one to liven the spirits. As many of my professors have explained on the first day of classes, the information that follows is not that which will make you feel warm and fuzzy. Hopefully, though, as you read the next few paragraphs where I share with you the facts behind why we absolutely must start caring more for our precious planet, you will begin to feel a drive. You will begin to feel something burning within you, telling you that you must incite change, so that your children and your children's children can enjoy the wonders of our diverse planet while also having a good place to live.

It is currently estimated that "Of the 40,168 species that the 10,000 scientists in the World Conservation Union have assessed, one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one in three amphibians, one in three conifers and other gymnosperms are at risk of extinction." ( environment/animal-extinction--the-greatest-threat-to-mankind-397939.html) Granted great extinctions have occurred before in the history of our small planet, five different times to be exact, the difference between these past extinctions and the present one lies in one major factor: human influence.
Studies of past great extinctions show that a major climatic change, or possibly the affects of events such as an asteroid hitting the planet, have caused vast numbers of species to die out. Natural speciation then occurs, in which new species emerge out of the ones that survived. In about 10 million years the level of biodiversity seen before the catastrophic event begins to resurface. This is the natural way, but there is nothing natural about the current die-out that we are seeing. Habitat devastation, poisonous chemicals, monoculture crops, and invasive species are just a few of the human-induced obstacles that earth's life forms must contend with today. Once this great extinction takes full affect, will the species left behind be able to survive long enough for speciation to take place? If our current patterns of natural resource use and development continue, there will be no natural environment left for the animals to use in 1000 years, much less 10 million.
What humans too often fail to realize is that the earth's plants and animals are more than just things to be mused at through the bars of zoo cages. They are integral parts of the natural system that provide very real and necessary benefits to human life. Without scavengers, who would clean up the carcasses of deceased animals? We could just leave them there to rot, but would we not then contend with diseases born from the remains? Without the roots of plants holding the earth together, would not all the soil wash away with the rain? Where then would we grow our crops? And how could we protect our homes from becoming engulfed in flowing earth? We already have this problem, as the waves of the ocean take with it sand, loosened by the removal of the plants that used to grow there. Snakes help to control bug populations, bees fertilize our plants, worms provide nutrition to help our food to grow. There is an endless list of tragedies that we will experience should the diversity currently present on our planet continue to be devastated by our human activities.
As I watch shows such as PlanetEarth, or scan through National Geographic magazines featuring articles about so many incredible creatures, I can't help but to think about what an amazing gift we have been given. How foolish we are to be abusing what we have been blessed with. The following link will take you to a blog page that features some amazing photos of some of our planets most incredible species, including many that are listed as endangered.
As you look through these photos, think about the many services that animals provide for us as well as the right that they have to be living here on this planet, just like we do. Ultimately, it's not just about saving our own futures; it's about theirs as well.

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