- By Jerry O'Brien
- Apr 22 2011
- Volume/Issue: 2/33
The Earthling Chronicles: Species Extinction
Editor’s note: This is an ongoing blog about nature and all other things science by Jerry O’Brien.
A tribute to Earth Day
“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” – Edward O. Wilson
The quote above never fails to blow my mind. To think, if all insects were to disappear, you know, those little annoying creatures that buzz around, ruining picnics, and occasionally biting and stinging, the one thing most people would want to rid the world of, the environment would collapse into chaos. I don’t know about you, but it makes me think twice before swatting a fly or stepping on an ant. But on a more serious note, it makes me realize how much we take this planet for granted.
In my world, as an aspiring zoologist, species extinction is a serious problem, and, as much of a problem this is, little seems to care. About a year ago, I had given a speech on the importance of wildlife conservation at a rotary club meeting. It was a room full of rich, retired seniors. After loosening up the crowd with a joke of how under-dressed I was, I took a moment to reflect on the life and accomplishments of Steve Irwin. I had explained to them the importance of his work and what he had done to better our understanding of life outside of man. He hadhad given us ways and reasons to protect it.
They seemed confused that I would take time to say such words, and, at the end of my presentation, I found out why. As I concluded my speech, I had presented the crowd with the opportunity to ask questions. Now, I will remind you that my speech was on the importance of wildlife conservation. The first question that was asked happened to be the only questioned asked. It was, “Why should I care if some bird that I never heard of goes extinct?” he continued with, “I am 74 years old, and if what you say is true, that species going extinct affects us all, well I have yet to feel anything.” As you can probably guess, I became a bit irritated with this man; it was obvious he didn’t listen to a thing I said.
I asked him if he had grandchildren, “My grandchildren have children, what’s your point,” he arrogantly responded. I said, “Well sir, you see, although you yourself may not have felt or seen the consequences of this crisis, but I assure you, your grandchildren’s children will.”
“And when they look to find who is responsible, they will look at us because it is we who are here, and it is we who must do something to set an example for generations to come. We continually promise our kin the world. Well, let’s give them a beautiful world, a world they can be proud of, a world they, in turn, can give their grandchildren’s children.” I will admit, I gave myself a little pat on the back.
I believe there are three core reasons why we are facing this extinction crisis.
The first is lack of education and understanding. When is the last time you read a book about the life of insects, the life of birds? When is the last time you watched a documentary about the social structure of the order Hymenoptera? And just so you know, that order includes bees, wasps and hornets. But back to my point. When you don’t know about something, you don’t understand it, and when you don’t understand something, well that leads me to my second point… apathy.
Many of us spend our lives worrying about taxes, what shoes will match what shirt, what cereal to have in the morning, and I bet the number of black-footed ferrets in existence rarely crosses our minds. It seems like no one cares if it’s not hurting them or disrupting their daily lives.
And finally, we are facing this crisis simply because of indifference. We all know what we are doing to the planet is bad– tearing down forests, polluting air and water, allowing Sarah Palin to kill off anything that moves. And although we know its wrong, no one really does anything, even if they want it to stop.
Many do not understand that other species play a major role in our survival. When people in my state received word of the bee crisis, they couldn’t comprehend the direness of the situation.
Most said they didn’t see why everyone was worked up, that bees were everywhere and all they have to offer is honey. Little did they know that if not for bees, we wouldn’t have corn, oranges and so on. Crops would cease to exist. And as for compassion, I can see why many people would find it hard to have compassion for wild animals, most of the time they see them on TV ripping each other apart and, in rare cases, ripping people apart.
In order to solve this problem, we, whether we are scientists, activists or just aware individuals, need to educate our neighbors, our children, giving them a reason to care about wildlife and forests. We need to get the younger generations involved. How much would it hurt to have a wildlife or environmental club at schools? How much would it hurt to have a community meeting and urge community members to take action, whether it involves watching their waste or donating to organizations?
I’m guessing it wouldn’t hurt at all. And for those of us who are more well versed in these subject areas, we need to be the leaders. We need to petition government officials, not only in the U.S. but around the world. We need to raise our voices and stand for what we believe in.
We need to show the world that this crisis is a serious one and any actions that could help reduce or even eliminate this problem need to be taken now, not only for the sake of wildlife… for our sake.