Some time ago, we were discussing conservation around the lunch table at work, and my friend Mark posed a question. He said something to the effect of: "I don't get it. What's the big deal about preserving a species? If you do it, does somebody pay your oil bill or something?" He was being facetious, of course, but Mark really is not all that concerned about the unprecedented rate at which species are dying off in today's world.
I'll admit that sometimes I'm not all that quick with the words of wisdom, and this was one of them. Naturally, I spent some time afterward thinking things over, and wondering what I could have said if I'd been faster on my feet. In the end, I had thoroughly thought through the question, and I am very glad to have had that opportunity,
because it certainly brought some clarity and depth to my understanding of my own beliefs. So, Mark, although it's a bit late, I finally have an answer for you.
In the belief system that my wife and I follow, every being on this planet has value, because we were all created by the same Creator. We all share the same world, and none of us has any more right to life than any other. That is a hard belief to share with someone - you either get it, and don't need an explanation, or you don't get it, and no amount of explaining will help.
However, Mark, I understand that you do not hold any spiritual beliefs, and so you need something a little more concrete before you will accept that other creatures have value in and of themselves.
To start my explanation, let's consider the lowly canary. In and of itself, this little ball of feathers perhaps has little value in a practical sense. However, at one time the canary played a vital role in mining safety, as its sensitivity to air quality made it a valuable alarm to warn miners before they were
overcome by poisonous gases. With that warning, they could then take action to prevent their own deaths. Unfortunately, this often cost the canary its life.
In a similar way, every creature that we lose from this earth is a warning. It tells us that we are creating conditions on our planet - our only home - that will not support life. In the early stages, it is only the most sensitive that are in trouble; like the canary,
they give us warning of the problem while we can still do something about it. The message is very clear, and incontrovertible - but for some reason, as long as it's
"only animals" dying, it seems that many of us cannot
bring ourselves to care.
So what does that say about our future? Well, like miners that choose to ignore the canary lying feet up on the floor of its cage,
our society seems to be intent on continuing with what we are doing. Like all the creatures with whom we share our planet, we need certain conditions to support our lives. Every creature that we lose, no matter how seemingly insignificant, should tell us that we are gradually creating conditions that will threaten our own existence. The warning is plain, and we need to take note and start to fix the problem. As we do, we will find that the mass extinctions will slow, and finally
they will stop. When that happens, we will have a solid indication that our own existence is no longer in jeopardy.
I know that many people are depending on technology to solve our problems, but I cannot share that faith. We have only the most basic understanding of natural processes - everything that we have done to the earth proves it. The more we meddle, the more we mess things up, because we discover intricacies and
dependencies that we didn't know were there. As Will Rogers might
tell us, we are all asking the question, " If stupidity got
us into this, why can't it get us out?" Science cannot cure the common cold - why should we hope it will solve a problem that threatens our very existence?
It seems to me that the only way to address the many problems that we have created for ourselves is for each of us to personally take responsibility for our actions and for our consumption. It is up to every individual to take ownership of the problem, and take action to fix their little part of the world. We cannot depend on the government - that has been proven by our own government refusing to take definitive action to address the issues.
For far too many years, they have studied the problem to death,
and done very little: in the words of the old saying, "When
all is said and done, a lot more gets said than done." No,
the problem is ours to solve as individuals. The canary is lying
on the bottom of the cage - what are we going to do about it?
So, Mark, that is my final answer: helping to eliminate a threat
to a species, or bringing one back from the brink of extinction, means that we are reversing the changes
that threatened them in the first place - changes that WE caused.
Doing so won't pay your oil bill, but it will help ensure that we will have a comfortable place to live in years to come.
More importantly, it will help ensure that your children, and their children, can enjoy the same bountiful life that we do today.
The alternative is unthinkable.