Contributing to efforts to save endangered species could be a New Year’s resolution your grandchildren and their grandchildren will thank you for. 

More than 5,000 animal species are known to be in danger of extinction.  Information about fish, reptiles, and amphibians is very limited, but anecdotal evidence indicates many of them are in similar danger.  Species may be disappearing before we even know they exist.   The current rate of extinction is already as much as 10,000 times faster than the average rate over the past 60 million years and is accelerating.

This could be the first mass extinction caused by a single species: man.  Measuring ‘progress” by the rate of economic growth, calculating material benefits while ignoring the cost of those benefits, destroys what sustains life.  A species can become endangered because of habitat loss or degradation,  climate change,  agriculture,  over-exploitation,  the introduction of exotic creatures, industrial and/or extractive activities,  war,  and expanding human settlement, or any combination of these factors; the one common factor in all of them is man.

The profit motive drives much of this destruction.  The international smuggling of live animals is worth as much as $16 billion annually, second only to the international drug trade.  The trade in dead animals or their parts is believed to be worth a similar amount. 
In regions such as the Amazon, plants, animals, and indigenous peoples and their cultures are disappearing as the forest is destroyed and the habitat transformed. 

Apart from the value of the plants and animals, the loss of these indigenous peoples’ knowledge and wisdom is one we are only slowly, perhaps too slowly, coming to appreciate.  An area equal to about 11 football fields is deforested every minute in the Amazon; the daily cut equals the area of New York City.  The average daily species loss totals 137 plants and animals; over a single year, 50,000 species are lost.

Similar destruction is occurring all over the planet; in the Arctic, the deserts, the grasslands, the world’s oceans, we’re destroying and losing everything which makes living truly worthwhile, and, indeed, even everything which makes life on this planet possible.

There is no doubting this destruction for short term profit threatens man’s own survival.  Healthy ecosystems provide man with critical services, including supplying us with air and filtering our water.  Plants and animals have medicinal, agricultural, ecological, commercial, and aesthetic/recreational values for humans which are lost to present and future generations when species become extinct.  Only 1 percent of tree and plant species in the Amazon, for example, has been tested so far, but those species provide 25% of all pharmaceuticals.

There are efforts being made to reverse all of this.  Although the trade in live and dead animals and plants flourishes, the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES) is helping limit it. CITES – signed by 166 countries – protects more than 5,000 species of animals and 28,000 species of plants, in whatever form they are traded.  Since it took effect, no species it protects has become extinct as a result of trade.

Other efforts to at least slow extinction rates include the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity.  but little has been achieved because the Convention lacks action and enforcement mechanisms and has not been signed by the United States, the global economic and military super power.

There are many organizations working to save endangered species.  Even more desperate, perhaps despairing efforts, include establishment of the Frozen Ark, a gene bank of the world’s endangered animals at Britain’s Royal Botanical Gardens.  Frozen Ark will hold samples of DNA and other genetic material to give scientists an opportunity to study them and, who knows, “re-create’ a species in the future.

Jean Giono’s story “The Man Who Planted Trees” tells of Elezeard Bouffier, a man who transformed a barren land by dedicating his life to planting trees even as World War One took millions of lives and devastated so much of the planet.  Giono described Bouffier’s work as “an act worthy of God.”  Perhaps in 2007 more of us can perform such acts, if only in our own self-interest.

If we don’t, all we will have left, as we face our self-inflicted extinction, will be ever more remote memories.  Memories might seem to be as real as any realities, but memories don’t breathe, and hope…and say ‘thank you’. 

Real things, living things, do.

[Edited by Simon – Minor format change]

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