I saw this article, that I would label more as speculation than “hard” science that human-caused climate change will likely destroy more species than it creates. At one level this is simplistically true: it takes a long time for a new species to emerge but we can destroy one almost instantly in the timeframe of life on this planet. Extrapolation is always hard but the fossil records shows most species that ever existed are extinct. Clearly for most of history it was not us that cause the extinctions, but today we’re doing more than all the ice ages and asteroids combined.
So why should we care if some species disappear? As he Arctic ice will soon be gone many species may disappear all together or at least be severely reduced in numbers. So what, will the Dow drop due to this? Will the rich be less rich? Will the 99% starve? Probably not, but I still think it is a crime and immoral for us to so casually destroy other species. It diminishes us to squander this gift, to treat life so poorly.
Now some argue, trying to appeal to profit motive, that loss of species could harm us in tangible ways. Who knows, some species could have a gene we could exploit cancer, just as we’ve found the BT gene to make corn more productive. So somehow all life has the possibility of economic value and it will actually cost us to lose them. I can see why this argument is made (greed arguments are more compelling than conscience), even though most of the greedies will ignore it (it’s still too intangible and they don’t see any of this affecting their net worth this quarter so full speed ahead burning more fossil fuel).
I go a different direction. I believe all of us are diminished when we destroy life or habitat. It has nothing to do with money, it has to do with how we should be thankful for this exquisite system that nurtures us. We should be humble. Our very existence totally depends on other living things. The oxygen we breath was produced by life. The energy we need to live comes from other life. The building materials of our bodies comes from other life. How can we be so arrogant to ignore this gift and so casually destroy.
I think, unfortunately, much of this comes from religion. Religion decided to make us special (the so-called special creation). Everything around us was created (in 6 days, of course, how absurd) for our pleasure and use, we owe it nothing back. Other life is irrelevant, except as to how we can exploit it for gain. So religion, especially contemporary fundamentalism, completely denies nature (after all it was invented to displace paganism). The purpose of the universe is us, because god said so. Well, maybe that’s why religion is at war with science, because science tells us we are a tiny, tiny little part of this universe. And the universe, well, it doesn’t care about us. It gives us a chance to exist, but it doesn’t care whether we do exist, that’s up to us. So just like we’re prepared to kill off all the polar bears and not shed a tear, nature could wipe us out just as easily. So we should be a bit more humble, we should be grateful for how lucky we are, and not dismiss all that is around us as something we can do with as we chose.
Back on the pragmatic side, I think all life is important, often in ways we can neither detect or even imagine. We destroy the habitat for some bird species, we then discover that bird ate lots of beetles that now expand in their numbers and eat the trees we’d like to chop down for lumber. Once in Palo Alto people in town started having an increase in the number of gophers. Palo Alto owns a large natural area in the coastal mountains, called Foothill Park. There were lots of gopher snakes there. So people caught them and brought them to their yards. Usually the gopher snakes did their work efficiently and soon ate all the gophers so the gardeners were happy. The gopher snakes, OTOH, were now starving and were frequently being squished by cars as they tried to go find more gophers. Meanwhile back in Foothill park the gopher population exploded, with their primary predator reduced in numbers. Now gopher snakes are very skilled at getting gophers and thus monopolized them. Rattlesnakes, OTHO, weren’t so good at catching gophers but with vastly increased supply they had plenty of good eats and so their numbers expanded. And children play in the grasslands where the rattlesnakes live, so it was inevitable that one of them got bitten. What goes around comes around. You can’t start changing things without expecting nature to rebalance the change in unexpected ways.
When wolves, even the small numbers, were reintroduced into Yellowstone Park they made the elk a little more nervous. Wolves like elk since it takes a fairly big animal to feed the pack. So elk started doing more what elk naturally do and that is hiding a bit more. As a consequence the elk ate less of the tender willows growing along streams. Now smaller species, deer and pronghorn, had more to eat and their numbers increased. Balance, nature always does it. Yellowstone with wolves is a more natural ecosystem than Yellowstone without wolves. Ranchers are all freaky that wolves are going to ravage their herds, so naturally they still will kill any wolf they see. When I lived in Montana and had the occasion to meet some ranchers, their attitude toward wild animals was simple: if you can’t profit off it or if it might reduce your profits, kill it. No one saw any value to any non-commercial animal, just a pest to be killed without a second thought.
With global climate change we’re seriously changing the natural world and the consequences of that are: a) not going to be predictable, and, b) are going to blow up in our face. The Kochs may make a few more gigabucks, the rest of us may starve. We should halt our arrogance that either we can manage nature (we absolutely can not) or that it is irrelevant, only our man-made artificial wealth matters. Now our very existence means we kill other living things, directly or indirectly. So none of us can shed our guilt on this. We consume and we destroy. The only way we could eliminate our impact on nature is to be dead (and that may be what nature has in mind for us, despite religious notion we’re special creation, some future intelligent species may be digging up our bones). So we should honor all life even as we consume some of it, but at least we might stop the gratuitous killing.
There will be balance. It’s just a question of how it happens and how extreme the feedback loop is. We have the option, now, to change our ways, in small increments, that can reduce our footprint, possibly to the point of restoring balance. If we don’t do this balance will be restored, most likely violently. Any parent, Repug or Dem, should care about their children and the world they’ll have to live in. Leaving them a big inheritance (naturally with no taxes) isn’t going to do them much good if this planet is turned into a wasteland. Our selfishness will be “rewarded” and those children may be the ones who pay our debt.
We’re not talking about “saving the planet” (it will adjust and go on), we’re talking about saving us. So stop being an enabler for the greedies and recognize all the denial is just a propaganda campaign, their profits, your children’s loss.