Happy day after Earth Day, 2021.
The earth has been slapping us around the past year: drought, hurricanes, blizzards, pandemic. Every time you turn around you see yet another natural disaster barreling down on a usually unprepared populace.
That doesn’t include extinctions. In the past year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) listed dozens of species as extinct on their “Red List” of endangered and threatened animals. These species range from the Lost shark to the Bonin pipistrelle (a small Japanese bat) to 22 frog species in Central and South America to dozens of plant species worldwide (including 32 orchid species in Bangladesh and 65 North American plants), among many others. (Many of the species have not been seen in years, sometimes decades, but were only listed by IUCN as extinct in 2020).
The reasons for extinction range from natural (many frog species were wiped out by a fungus), to the usual effects of “civilization” such as habitat destruction and overfishing, to the almost unbelievably silly. Simeulue Hill mynahs were decimated by over collecting for the songbird trade. Extinct in the wild, it is thought that a few may exist in captivity.
According to IUCN, more than 37,400 other species are threatened with extinction – 28 percent of the assessed species. Mammals, fish, reptiles, birds, plants, all have species on the brink.
God knows what this does to us. True, maybe losing 15 per cent of mite species won’t affect humans directly, but it does affect the ecosystems in which they exist. Ecosystems that may well be home to species we do care about.
Extinction denial, much like climate denial, does real damage in the world. Pretending that the extinctions are not happening, that they are part of the natural order and not caused by human activities, or that they don’t matter at all, will lose us the biodiversity upon which our long-term survival as a species depends. Answers to questions we don’t even know to ask yet may be lost with the Amazonian rainforest.
Not only our physical survival, either. We risk losing the wonderful world around us, filled with species that may not yet be extinct but that may be well on their way. We need a world in which we can marvel at small bats, or the amazing color of South American frogs, or the majesty of elephants. Children delight in dinosaurs; children delight in snow leopards and cheetahs.
It would be a tragedy if the latter were as gone as the former.