The Real Case for Saving Species: We Don’t Need Them, But They Need Us

| October 22, 2019 | Leave a Comment

Item Link: Access the Resource

Media Type: News / Op - Ed

Date of Publication: October 21, 2019

Year of Publication: 2019

Author(s): Carl Safina

Categories: , , , ,

Conservationists argue that humans need to save species in order to save ourselves. The truth is we could survive without wild species — but they can’t survive without us, and the moral argument for protecting them and the beauty they bring to the world is overwhelming.

Irecently visited a museum exhibit on big cats. A sign featuring a beautiful jaguar asked, “Why should we care about wild cats?” Its answer: “Because in protecting big cats, we are protecting ourselves.”

Is that really true? That implies big cats are in trouble because “we” don’t care to protect ourselves. And if it turns out that we don’t really need jaguars in order to protect ourselves, have they lost their case for existence?

For decades, many conservationists have been trying to sell a clumsy, fumbling appeal to self-interest: the idea that human beings need wild nature, need wild animals, need the species on endangered lists. “If they go extinct, we’ll go extinct,” is a common refrain. The only problem: it’s false.

We drove the most abundant bird in the Americas — the passenger pigeon — to extinction. The most abundant large mammal — the American bison — to functional extinction. We gained: agriculture, and safety for cows, from sea to shining sea. Who misses the Eskimo curlew? Indeed, who knows they existed, their vast migrating flocks like smoke on the now-gone prairies? That experiment is done.

Billions of people want what you and I got in exchange: health and wealth and education. We now live the way most other people on the planet wish to live. Governments, institutions, and regular people have cheered the material expansion that has cost many species (and tribal peoples) everything. We have endangered species not because what is bad for them is bad for us, but because the opposite is true: what is bad for them has fueled the explosive growth and maintenance of human populations and technologies. We are losing many species along the way to humanity’s only three apparent real goals: bigger, faster, more. Propelling the human juggernaut has entailed wiping many species out of the way. People live at high densities in places devoid of wild species and natural beauty. Human beings have thrived by destroying nature. When the animals and open spaces go, we have industrial-scale farms and factories, ball fields and strip malls and quick-lubes. How could saving this or that endangered species, that is following those whose oblivion brought fast food and sneakers, be a matter of — of all things — saving ourselves? Telling people that “we” need jaguars to “protect ourselves?” That’s a hard sell. We don’t need them.

“I can’t name a single wild species whose total disappearance would be materially felt by, essentially, anyone.”

“What a grim world it will be by the time we’re down to what humans need. Human need is a very poor metric for evaluating the existence of living things.”

Read the full article here. 


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