One often hears the argument that humans need to save the world’s endangered species in order to save ourselves. Carl Safina, a marine ecologist and award-winning environmental writer, has written a thought-provoking essay that offers the viewpoint that we don’t actually need the wild species of the world but that they need us.
The truth is that human beings have thrived by destroying nature. We have exploited other species when they were useful to us and simply pushed them aside when they weren’t. We drove America’s most abundant bird – the passenger pigeon – to extinction. The most abundant large mammal – the bison – was driven to functional extinction.
In today’s world, people live at high densities in places devoid of wild species and natural beauty. And while we express concern for elephants, gorillas, sperm whales, tigers, and various other species, how would the lives of most of us be affected at all should they vanish entirely? The unfortunate truth is that it would make little difference to our lives.
The only species that are really essential to modern living are actually microbes of decay, a few insect pollinators, and the ocean’s photosynthesizing plankton. Life would go on little changed without most other co-inhabitants of our planet.
Safina argues that our obligation to protect endangered species does not come from our dependence upon them but rather on a moral obligation. Humans consider ourselves to be the most moral species and, as such, we have moral obligations. In this case, it is to protect the beauty and wonder of our world, which is not trivial but in fact is the most profound thing on earth.
Safina has much more to say about this and I strongly recommend reading his essay. You can find the link here.
Photo, posted December 9, 2014, courtesy of Gerry Zambonini via Flickr.