Thursday, January 30, 2014

Species Extinction is a Great Moral Wrong

Posted by Phil Cafaro (Colorado State University) and Richard Primack

(Phil Cafaro of Colorado State University, guest blogger)

“Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wilderness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bitterns and the meadow-hen lurks.. and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground... We need to witness our won limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander. We can never get enough of Nature.” -Thoreau, Walden

Natural species are the primary expressions of organic nature’s order, creativity and diversity. They represent thousands of millions of years of evolution and achievement. They show incredible functional, organizational and behavioral complexity. Every species, like every person, is unique, with its own history and destiny. When people take so many resources or degrade so much habitat that another species is driven extinct we have taken or damaged too much, and brought a valuable and meaningful story to an untimely end.”

So we assert in a new editorial in Biological Conservation: "Species extinction is a great moral wrong". We wrote this short essay in response to recent suggestions by Peter Kareiva, the chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, and his colleagues that extinguishing species is morally acceptable as long as these losses do not rebound and harm people themselves.

We argue that this view is selfish and unjust, and should be rejected. Human beings already control more than our fair share of Earth’s resources. If increased human numbers or economic demands threaten to extinguish other species then we need to limit our numbers and economic demands. Rather than embrace the Anthropocene Epoch, a new term used to indicate the current and increasing influence of humans on the global environment and its associated extinctions, conservation biologists should work to preserve a diverse, wild and flourishing natural world.

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