Cambridge University Annual Report 1
"The first rule of intelligent
tinkering is to save all the pieces." Aldo Leopold
"Not since the disappearance of the dinosaurs has the world seen extinctions of species on such a scale as today, following the destruction inflicted by the activities of man. The quest to stem the tide of irreversible losses is urgent if many creatures are not to disappear from the world forever."
Cambridge University Annual Report 1
"The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the pieces."
Of the Earth's estimated 10 million species, 300,000 have vanished from the earth in the past 50 years. 2
Each year, 3,000 to 30,000 species are disappearing, "an all time high for the last 65 million years." 3 This is up to 82 species per day, between 1,000 and 100,000 times the natural rate.4
Scientists estimate that, within 100 years, between one-third and two-thirds of all birds, animals, plants and other species will be lost. 5 Nearly 25% of the 4,630 known mammal species are now threatened with extinction, 34% of fish, 25% of amphibians, 20% of reptiles, and 11% of birds. Even more are having population declines. Species are disappearing even in fairly safe places like Yosemite.6
Nearly 1 of 3 U.S. plant species are under threat of extinction. Plants are "fundamental to nature's functioning. They undergird most of the rest of life, including human life, by converting sunlight into food. They provide the raw material for many medicines and the genetic stock from which agricultural strains of plants are developed. And they constitute the very warp and woof of the natural landscape, the framework within which everything else happens."7
Dr. Stuart Pimm, a University of Tennessee ecologist who reviewed the plant extinctions report, said, "that's [the number] threatened now, as a consequence of what we've done so far; but all the evidence is that the destruction is continuing at an accelerating pace.... extinctions inevitably grow more rapid as the loss of one species directly brings about the demise of others...."8 Says Kenny Ausubel in Seeds of Change, "When one plant species becomes extinct, so too will the twenty or forty animal and insect species that rely on it.... Once organisms and their genes are lost, they cannot be recovered."9
"Virtually all extinctions today are caused by human activities." The main causes today are habitat destruction and fragmentation; pollution; invasive introduced species; and hunting or other deliberate harvest.10
Humans are likely to be significantly harmed by this process. We've only identified about 1/3 of the world's species, so we often don't even know what we're losing &endash; including possible medical cures and foods. Many pharmaceuticals are currently derived from plants (worth about $40 billion a year), and less than 1 in 100 plants has been surveyed for medically-useful phytochemicals. Just one plant that stops cancer could save countless lives and be worth over $200 million a year.11
But, for many, the wish to protect animal and plant life goes much deeper than human self-interest. "It matters spiritually as well," says Cambridge University's Dr. Andrew Balmford. And "I want my grandchildren to be able to enjoy nature as much as I have." 12
Information gathered by Patricia Dines, Community Action Publications
1 "Creating the Environment for Change," Cambridge University Annual Report 1998-9, discussing their appeal to raise £2 million to fund a new professorship in conservation <www.admin.cam.ac.uk/univ/annualreport/1998-9/d.html>
2 Organic Style magazine, Oct. 2001, p28. From David Hircock, Aveda.
3 The "startling wake-up call" of U.S., African and British scientists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. From GREENLines Issue #1385, 5/21/01, the Endangered Species Coalition <email@example.com>
4 Dr. Andrew Balmford, Cambridge University Zoology Department, one of the country's very few lecturers in conservation biology. The natural background rate is only between 0.1 and 1 species a year, per million species. <www.admin.cam.ac.uk/univ/annualreport/1998-9/d.html>
5 Scientists attending the annual International Botanical Congress estimated this figure. <http://birding.about.com>
6 World Watch, Jan/Feb 1997, p. 7. Study compiled by IUCN-World Conservation Union "based on 35 years of data from more than 500 scientists worldwide."
7 At risk in the U.S. are 4,669 of 16,108 plant species. "One in Every 8 Plant Species Is Imperiled, a Survey Finds," William K. Stevens, New York Times, p. 1, April 9, 1998.
8 Ibid. Plus <www.worldbook.com/fun/wbla/earth/html/ed11.htm>.
9 Kenny Ausubel, Seeds of Change, 1994, p. 19.
10 "Habitat Change, Population Growth, and the Biodiversity Crisis: Getting Ahead of the Extinction Curve", Daniel Simberloff <www.angelo.edu/~univsymp/1993/simberlo.htm>
12 Balmford, op. cit.
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