There’s a library as old as life itself. It exists in a continuous state of flux. Books have been added and removed, and the current ones are always being updated. It’s the library of biodiversity, and each book holds the genetic code for a species.
The library offers clues for some of the world’s greatest mysteries. Speculations on some of the smallest scales of life have revealed complex and intricate relationships that shape the inner workings of the biosphere. Relationships between organisms cause energy to flow and the ecosystem to function. Each species is a piece of an ancient puzzle. Like an encyclopedia, species’ diversity guides humans to a broader understanding of life. That understanding can be translated into the success of our own species. Medicine, agriculture and climate are all inextricably connected to understanding biodiversity. They are linked to human livelihood.
For all that it’s worth, the library is in danger. Extinction marks the end of a species’ genetic lineage. Gone, out like a light, goodbye forever!
The Pyrenean ibex, the golden toad, the Baiji dolphin — all are recently extinct, gone the way of the dodo. Extinction can occur naturally; survival can only be achieved by the fittest. Yet, we are witnessing unprecedented rates of extinction. Within this century, the number of books on the shelves of the biodiversity library could decrease by 20 to 50 percent. Scientists divide life on earth into five historical marks of extinction and the dawn of human civilization initiated the sixth.
The tropical rain forest fosters the world’s greatest amount of biodiversity. Deforestation has claimed 40 percent of these environments. Cloud forests are disappearing due to global warming. Coral reefs are being lost to pollution and acidification. The sea’s largest fish are lost to overfishing.
How many more species need to disappear before society takes notice? How many more landscapes do we need to deforest, ravage of resources and leave behind before civilization is satiate?
E.O. Wilson, a renowned biologist, once said, “We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means for humanity.” Intelligence requires us to use every piece of the puzzle. Eliminating pieces is only going to bring us backward. The burning books in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” are no longer a dystopian motif. The destruction of valuable information is occurring now.
Preservation is key to a viable planet, yet not enough people are talking about it. In our own backyard, in the Nature Preserve, many species have disappeared as the consequence of deer overpopulation alone. If we cannot take ownership of the things we live near, we cannot possibly fathom the destruction elsewhere.
Extinction is real, and it’s not going to stop without a major cultural intervention. The sooner we bring preservation into the academic spotlight, the stronger and more just civilization becomes.