The Issue: The World Conservation Union says that plants and animals are facing extinction at an increasing rate.
Our Opinion: If the extinction rate is not reversed, mankind will continue to have fewer species on which to depend for such things as medicine and food.
There has been a considerable amount of discussion in recent years among scientists and environmentalists about the worldwide decline of biodiversity.
Biodiversity is, quite simply, the multitude of flora and fauna that inhabit the Earth.
No one knows exactly how many species of animals and plants there are on the planet — 10 million to 30 million is a good guess — but as scientists have tried to get a more accurate count, one thing has become certain: The number of plants and animals facing extinction is growing, and for many the cause is man.
Earlier this month, the World Conservation Union released the 2007 edition of its Red List, which names 16,306 species that are threatened with extinction, an increase from last year’s figure of 16,118 species.
The union is a Swiss-based network of scientists and environmental experts in 181 countries dedicated to encouraging and helping governments use their natural resources wisely and conserve the biodiversity under their control.
In a report that accompanied the Red List, the union said, “Biodiversity is being irreversibly destroyed by human activities at an unprecedented rate.”
Even before man began to have such a profound effect on the environment, many plants and animals became extinct through natural causes and still do.
However, Hamdallah Zedan, executive director of the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity, said species are becoming extinct at a rate that is 1,000 times faster than the natural rate.
Even though new plants and animals are emerging, they are not doing so fast enough to replace those that are being lost, said David Tilman, an ecology professor at the University of Minnesota, who blames man for most of the current rate of species extinction.
“We take natural habitats and convert them to agriculture, to suburbia, to roads, to monoculture forestry,” he said. “We fish the oceans so heavily we literally have these trolling nets that scrape the bottom of the ocean clean.”
The union report listed several species headed for extinction including gorillas, which face threats from hunters and the Ebola virus.
For the first time this year, corals have been put on the list. Union scientists surveyed corals in the water surrounding the Galapagos Islands and found a third of them at risk of extinction because of global warming.
Why should anyone other than scientists and environmentalists care that a growing number of species are threatened with extinction? Because we are all part of that biodiversity and what affects it, affects us.
Eric Chivian, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvad Medical School, sounded an omnimous warning two years ago when he told a conference of scientists and government officials that if species continue to decline, it will become difficult for pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs and for farmers to replace crops devastated by disease.
“We are incredibly lucky to be alive right now … because we have been tampering with the Earth’s life-support systems in ways we do not understand,” said Chivian. “Do not underestimate me when I say that we are in deep, deep trouble.”
The decline in biodiversity affects not only us, but also future generations.That’s why government officials and scientists need to work together to slow the rate of extinction.
If that isn’t done, then, as Zedan said, humankind is cutting off a lifeline to its future.