When Noah executed the plan to deal with catastrophic climate change, he was required to save not only people but also all of the animal species that he could identify. That makes sense. We have always depended on other species for food, clothing, crop pollination, draft animal service and even companionship. About 20,000 of those other species are now in danger of becoming extinct.
Rhinoceros horn sells for $20,000 a pound, and poachers are rapidly putting themselves and the rhinos out of business. Biology professor Anthony Barnosky reports in his book Dodging Extinction that the rate of species extinction is 32 times greater than the historical norm. That increase is directly related to the rise of human population from two billion to seven billion in one lifetime. Humans have drastically changed the planet. We poured concrete and invented chemicals, cut forests and built dams, hunted and fished, pumped oil and released sewage leaving many species unable to cope with the changes. We have 95,000 square miles of oxygen depleted dead zones caused by fertilizer and chemical run-off where rivers empty into seas and estuaries. Forty-five thousand large rivers and thousands of small rivers have been dammed diminishing aquatic life downstream.
We do care about those other species, and we take our children to see some of them. In the U.S., zoos and aquariums receive 181 million visitors per year. Those numbers hold up fairly well even in economic recession years.
Coral reefs are prized recreation for swimmers and divers who have access to them. Coral reefs support thousands of species. Today, coral reefs are endangered. Sixty-two percent of the energy required to sustain the human population and the livestock we maintain comes from fossil fuels, and that’s a problem. Carbon dioxide, a by-product of fossil fuel use, makes ocean waters more acid, causing harm to coral and to the many species that depend on coral reefs. Aquatic creatures that have shells are also harmed by the increased acidity of the ocean water.
There are many proposals for technical adjustments to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide, chemicals, and waste released around the world. But the problem is not only the way we live, but also, the fact that the planet is supporting seven billion people. Some observers expect the population to increase another one or two billion this century! North Carolina agronomist Joel Bourne writing in his book The End of Plenty reports that the 25 countries that have the highest birth rates are also countries where women have almost no legal rights, where women are deprived of education and are deliberately kept illiterate. There is a correlation between education for girls and moderate birth rates. Educated females are a form of birth control.
A few species, like mosquitoes, can adapt to almost any environment. Most species cannot; they have range requirements, food requirements, and temperature boundaries that govern where they can live. Some animals can migrate but not when their path is blocked by human developments.
For those of us who have seen baby quail chicks scampering through the grass or heard the evening call of a whippoorwill, something is missing from our lives, some bonding with nature is gone, replaced by exhaust pipes and flashing lights.
Alan Weisman writing in The World Without Us relates that the North American Passenger pigeon existed in such great numbers that they darken the sky at mid-day, and formed “flocks 300 miles long.” The last bird flew in 1914. The North American passenger pigeon was a victim of an invasive predator species, Homo sapiens.
It will be sad if future generations of parents have to take their children to a museum to see a tiger, a lion or an elephant.
Jack Stevenson is now retired from military service. He served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA).