I’m guessing that many of you don’t know this, but 2010 was named The Year of Biodiversity by the UN sometime before the year began. I am hoping, though, that you at least know what biodiversity is. When asked to define biodiversity, a recent survey in England, a country known to be more environmentally aware than the US, the number one answer was “some kind of [laundry detergent]”.
I’m not a tree-hugger. Like most people I have a certain evolution-programmed empathy for any mammal that has a large head-to-body ratio (which helps members of the species care for babies instead of eating them for their protein), but I honestly can’t work up a great deal of empathy for a specific species of spotted owl. The old crying Indian and pictures of baby seals don’t cause me to become an environmental activist.
“Mother Nature” has been creating, then wiping out species since the Earth first could sustain self-replicating chains of amino acids. When the first complex lifeforms started to populate the planet, nothing resembling humans could survive. Early life thrived in the noxious atmosphere that would kill us and were so successful that they eventually drowned in their own waste products. They were so successful that they altered the atmosphere of the entire planet and became extinct.
If those early lifeforms had only started an environmental movement, perhaps they could have avoided disaster. They weren’t smart enough, however, and Mother Nature (aka The Bitch), allowed them to die off. But other species evolved to thrive in their waste. The ecosystem changed again and still more species evolved. Occasionally The Bitch threw an asteroid at them just for laughs and wiped out even more species, whose niches were quickly filled in with new species.
After one such ecosystem-altering fun ball of destruction from space about 65 million years ago wiped out the most successful species yet, some small mammals evolved to take their place and eventually produced someone capable of blogging about biodiversity.
The Bitch doesn’t care any more about us than she cared about the precambrian stromatolites who died breathing in their own waste. I don’t care about The Bitch anymore than The Bitch cares about me.
I do, however, care about humans. It goes beyond the instinctual empathy that prevents me from eating babies (despite that being a favorite pastime of atheists). I would like to think that future generations will be better than my generation. I hope that they will learn more about how the universe works, create better arts and literature, boldly go where no one has gone before.
I think you know what I mean.
Accomplishing that, however, requires that we don’t let The Bitch wipe us out, and that we don’t make the same mistake that those stromatolites made and end up drowning in our own waste. The Bitch doesn’t care if we do or not. She will happily fill in with new species who will thrive in the new ecosystem and go happily on her merry way. Damn, she really is cold hearted. I never could understand why so many artists and environmentalists portray her as a kind, motherly entity.
Biodiversity is key to our own survival. One species of spotted owl doesn’t matter to us, but wiping out thousands of species, altering entire ecosystems, and changing the environment of the planet we are stuck on does matter to the survival of humans.
Humans, like other species before them, have a bad habit of using up resources and altering their environment faster than can be sustained. Archeology has many examples of this happening in the past, and anthropology is rife with stories about human cultures which managed to destroy themselves with bad environmental policies (like the Easter Island culture).
You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to want to do something to help sustain the ecosystem we live in. You just have to have some concern over the future of our own species. We should also try to avoid anything nasty coming down the pike from that cold hearted bitch called Mother Nature.