I Believe: ‘We are making it harder and harder for other species to exist’

February 21, 2010 • PMC in the News

By George Plumb
Sunday, February 21, 2010
(The Burlington Free Press)

Almost all of the expressed environmental concern these days is about climate change. However there is another environmental crisis happening that could be just as important, and perhaps even more important, and that is the loss of biodiversity.

The earth is now going through what is the greatest extinction of species since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. We are now losing species at the rate of nearly 30,000 per year. The difference between this extinction and previous ones is that rather than a planetary or galactic process, this one is caused by just one of the species on this planet.

By taking up an increasing amount of space, producing massive pollution, creating climate change and fostering invasive species, we are making it harder and harder for other species to exist. By any ecological measure, Homo sapiens sapiens has well exceeded its carrying-capacity size and is having an adverse impact on all other species.

Why is this important? Isn’t human life more important than other forms of life? Shouldn’t we be concerned only about the future of the human species?

Unfortunately, we cannot separate ourselves from the rest of life, although by living and working largely inside buildings it often seems that way. Nature is a complex system sometimes referred to as the “web of life.” The millions of species exist in a complex and delicate balance that is connected together by food chains, nutrient cycles, hydrological cycles and the climate system. Microbes in the soil are connected to plants, plants to animals — and everything is connected to air, water and sun.

If we were to lose all the bees on Earth due to colony collapse, or all the bats due to white-nose syndrome, our food supply would suffer badly as there would be a lack of pollination, or plants could be overrun by insects. Living organisms produce and clean our air, filter our water, control floods, store carbon, distribute nutrients and provide many other ecosystem services. With such complex and fragile ecosystems we never know what the impact of the loss of a certain species might mean to our own survival.

We probably can adjust to a warming planet, although there will be increasing suffering by millions of people. However, the warming planet with the droughts, desertification and rising sea levels also will change the space available for other species. Biodiversity needs space in the form of land, forests, wetlands and oceans in order to exist. That amount of space is fixed, and the ability to move safely and freely between appropriate habitats has been greatly compromised.

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