The Ethics of Mass Extinction

Past mass extinctions were caused by disastrous but natural events. The most recent mass extinction is human-caused

Past mass extinctions were caused by disastrous but natural events. The most recent mass extinction is human-caused.

Throughout Earth’s history there have been several mass extinctions. In the past these extinction events were a result of natural, albeit extremely lethal, events. Today we are in the midst of another extinction event that is, unlike the other ones, human-caused and not natural. Biologists such as Edward O. Wilson implore that the general public become more aware of the issues surrounding a mass extinction by understanding that this is not a natural phenomena we may be able to bounce back from and that there are clear paths we must take to rectify our mistakes. In the film “Call to Life,” which discusses the species extinction in progress, it is revealed that many views of the mass extinction and why we should prevent are anthropocentric, revolving around different reasons why preserving species and their environments is important.

Edward O Wilson, a prominent biologist, is a strong proponent of preventing mass extinction that is unnatural

Edward O Wilson, a prominent biologist, is a strong proponent of preventing mass extinction that is unnatural

The current anthropogenic mass extinction rate is happening at least 10 times faster than the natural background extinction rate that the Earth continually goes through. Much of what we know about the natural world, according to “Call to Life,” is not even a fraction of what is out in the wild-we do not know if certain species are interconnected or what will happen if particular species go extinct. Thus, we simply cannot take the chance of letting the extinction event occur.

There are several reasons why the extinction event is happening: global warming, pollution, overpopulation by humans, and over-consumption by humans all contribute to the extinction event. These direct links to species depletion are also, unfortunately, products of modern society. In order to rectify these problems then a total overhaul of our perspective on the planet must occur. Scientists have proven time and time again that the mass extinction event is happening but many people from politicians to the general populace do not know what that implies and the effects of the extinction event must also be determined and spelled out. An ethic must be established to understand why humans must put attention into other species for the good of all living organisms.

Human overpopulation is one factor leading to the mass extinction event. There are simply too many people taking up too much space on Earth

Human overpopulation is one factor leading to the mass extinction event. There are simply too many people taking up too much space on Earth

Many people have trouble accepting that this mass extinction event is any more volatile and terrible than previous events that have taken place millions of years ago, but there is evidence in the numbers. Current wildlife preserves cover only around 10% of the planet and protect around 5% of plants and animals today. These numbers are simply not feasible to  stable portions of the vast space needed to  biodiversity on Earth today.

When we look at wilderness, or an area of the earth substantially untrammeled or unmodified by human beings then we realize that there is virtually no place on Earth aside from parts of Antarctica that qualify as it anymore. To break this picture down imagine that a place that is not considered wilderness can range in use from a suburban complex to a major city, or farmland. These places do not welcome, nor are they conducive for animals to live in, so where can animals go? The answer is, nowhere since they have lost their natural habitat. The mass extinction event is, thus, a reality.

Manhattan Island and the five boroughs were once the home to a diverse number of animals, as modeled by this image, but in the present day this land barely exists

Manhattan Island and the five boroughs were once the home to a diverse number of animals, as modeled by this image, but in the present day this land barely exists

In addition there are skeptics who question why we must provide help for other organisms that are simply going through “a natural part of evolution,” as is often put. Despite the fact that supporters have the interests of preserving the lives of animals in their foremost thoughts, it is more telling that the reasons for saving other species is due to their usefulness in several important parts of human existence. For one, plant and animal organisms provide ecosystem services that humans may not even comprehend in the present day. Without organisms here in a certain aspect, or if organisms are disappearing fairly quickly then it is clear that the ecosystem service such as the purification of water will not occur. In addition many often cite the possibilities of animals and plants providing ingredients in the next big cure of a disease. To many supporters of species preservation these reasons are at the top of the list.

The Madagascar rainforest is protected and preserved by the WCS in order to maintain biodiversity

The Madagascar rainforest is protected and preserved by the WCS in order to maintain biodiversity

It is evident that the addressal of this mass species extinction is imperative, but is it a problem that the ethics involved in this situation are clearly anthropocentric? Is this a problem for the movement to protect animal species? According to Edward O. Wilson, no. As long as we are still saving the species, the reasons for saving them are irrelevant because the end goal of maintaining biodiversity is still achieved. To Wilson, the ecosystem services and medicines are priceless. If we were to put a price on their aid to human welfare it could risk them being devalued, sold or simply discarded to the highest bidder. Notable scientists and ethicists in “Call of Life,” also agree but state the importance of returning to the roots of our respect for natural places, as indigenous peoples remain committed to. Their vision of the future is not one where nature is manipulated by the will of humanity but where humans find their place in nature once more and become associated with the natural world.

Indigenous people look to become one with nature rather than mold it to their own uses

Indigenous people look to become one with nature rather than mold it to their own uses

In my opinion all of these reasons are great reasons to save the bountiful biodiversity of Earth, as long as we acknowledge that this biodiversity is threatened and that we need to stop it. We must all reexamine our lifestyle choices and perhaps become more in tune with Earth. As stated in the film, humans nowadays seem to have more interaction with machines and enclosed spaces than the natural world, and thus it is hard to garner empathy for it. Maybe a return to open, natural spaces will help people understand the value of our vast Earth and the choices we must make in order to preserve it.

Bringing wildlife to urban neighborhoods or schoolyards is one step in the right direction of building an ethic for empathy to the environment

Bringing wildlife to urban neighborhoods or schoolyards is one step in the right direction of building an ethic for empathy to the environment

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