Photograph by Charles J. Smith
“Biodiversity is the totality of all inherited variation in the life forms of Earth, of which we are one species. We study and save it to our great benefit. We ignore and degrade it to our great peril.” —E.O. Wilson
The May 12th New Yorker article, “Green is Good,” raises many important ethical questions about how we, as a human species, will continue to live with the natural world. One of the more important questions that the article raises is whether biodiversity is important. The answer is a resounding yes.
Why is biodiversity important?
Biodiversity is nature’s greatest tool in resiliency. Preserving the biodiversity of an ecosystem improves the resiliency and functioning of the ecosystem. A healthy functioning ecosystem benefits all the life forms on which the ecosystem depends. The loss of biodiversity in individual habitats throughout the globe is an issue of great concern for many conservationists and ecologists, and, although we are one species of millions, we are responsible for most habitat and biodiversity loss on the planet today. We, as humans, risk creating a less resilient world through the destruction of biodiversity.
E.O. Wilson stated in an interview on Charlie Rose in early May, “We have no idea how most of [the ecosystems on the planet] work, we have little idea what species are in [these ecosystems], and we don’t know what will happen to the world if we remove such a large part of this ancient flora and fauna. We are tinkering in a way that could be injurious to our own species.”
Putting a price on biodiversity and natural services makes the assumption that nature exists solely for our human consumption, and brings up a larger, ethical issue. As the New Yorker article highlighted, “When you put a price on something, you change your relationship to it.” Setting this stage is difficult to undo, and it could have large implications for the fate of the natural world. We must approach these conversations cautiously, and reflect on what the outcomes of these conversations mean for our ethical values as well as our greater well-being.
Extinction cannot be undone. The loss of biodiversity and the extinction of species at the hands of humans cannot be changed once it occurs. At this moment in time we live relatively harmoniously with our planet. The earth provides for us many of the basic elements we need to survive. However, that harmony may be short lived if we continue to destroy the very habitats that support life as we know it. We “tinker” with biodiversity on the planet today at the cost of resiliency, at the cost of our quality of life, and we may even do so at the cost of our future survival.
We are a more whole species, and a more whole people, as a result of the biodiversity around us. Biodiversity is a vital piece of the conservation puzzle. “We study and save it to our great benefit. We ignore and degrade it to our great peril.” May we never forget biodiversity’s importance, or underestimate its necessity in our thriving as a species, one species on a planet of millions.
Read the article, “Green Is Good,” by D.T. Max from the May 12, 2014 issue of The New Yorker.
Read letters to the editor about The New Yorker’s article “Green Is Good.”