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Learning To Share Earth

by Patrice Ayme Tue May 12th, 2009 at 02:00:34 AM EST

Is it a form of exploitation and hypocrisy, across the globe, for the most developed countries to ask the poorest to save their animal species, while not doing much effort themselves?

Well, there is a remedy, and a moral lesson therein: time to learn to share the planet with the rest of life, lest we want to keep on behaving as a malignancy.


The problem is this: species are disappearing. At this rate we are on track to the greatest extinction ever. How to stop it? There are basically four parameters to consider: land, sea, megafauna, and the rest of life. I agree that this may sound like a strange selection, but there is a method to it. The sea is crucial: if it shuts down, so does oxygen production. Conversely, entire zones of the ocean have become too hot to dissolve enough oxygen to support life and are dying off in vast expanses, down to enormous depths.

The megafauna is crucial, because that is the fauna one sees, the one that appeals to our poetical, ethical, childish and animal senses. A child will have empathy for a tiger cub, not so much for one of the countless stick insect species. Thus the megafauna creates a lot of the feelings conducive to save the rest. the megafauna is also the crown of evolution, the set of species furthest along in evolutionary complexity. That does not mean insects are not important: if pollinating insects disappear (as they have started to), their partners, most flowers and flowering trees, will disappear too.

Now of course, why to save the rest of life? Well, those who ask that question are generally of the lowly interested type, those who define whatever in terms of financial profits, those who have been controlling the planet recently. The lowliest greedy answer, the one these creatures can understand, is that life is all about NANOTECHNOLOGICAL SOLUTIONS. Life has found countless solutions for problems that we can't even imagine. By studying life, we will augment our powers, GDP will grow, capitalists will be on the moon again, and bat their bloody wings anew...

The sophisticated answer is that all life is one, and that many species apparently related to nothing that makes sense are actually part of gigantic ecological dynamics on time scales we can't fathom. The disappearance of some megafauna could well lead to diseases that would lead to the destruction of other species, and all the way down the line until the shutting down of the oxygen producing machinery (certainly the rise of acidity of the oceans could cause the later).

The USA and France, the world's largest holders of sea territory, have been pretty good at extending absolute protection to sea life (itself endangered by rising temperatures and acidity caused by CO2 reacting with H2O).

Remains the problem of land megafauna. Emblematic species are found mostly in the poorest countries (where the population density used to be low recently, but is now skyrocketing). The advanced countries' attitude is to try to force, or help, those poor countries to save those species, and bemoan about the situation the rest of the time (although some ecological organization like the Nature Conservancy efficiently buy land to put aside as reserves, a method practiced in Europe for 1,000 years).

The fact remains that this is asking much more from other nations than the most advanced nations demand from themselves. It's nice and cute to ask India to save its rhinoceroses. Indian peasants find it less nice and cute when they see a three ton rhino or two wading peacefully through the local rice fields. Tigers and leopards kill people. Leopard fur trade is forbidden for reason that do not make sense in the FULLNESS OF TIME (when very carefully analyzed). What Africans know is that leopards kill Africans. And Africans know they do not have the funds, knowledge, manpower and technology, nor do they have the economical machinery to manage leopards, a species made to kill primates, and especially Africans (once upon a time, a single leopard in India killed more than 200 people, just for fun).

If the leopards have no economic reason to exist, they will be charged with homicide, and executed. As a species. This is what has been happening all over. That is why there are extinct all over, because lions used to be all over. Leopards and cave lions used to be found in Europe, as recently as 20 centuries ago. The giant American lion, Panthera Leo Atrox, used to be found from the Yukon to Patagonia, 10,000 years ago, until man got rid of it.    

The megafauna of Europe and America are now very impoverished, although they are the richest places economically. So now Europe and America put on line vast means to conserve from a low mega fauna situation, while the mega fauna is getting finally exterminated where it still exists (there are plenty of tigers captive in Texas, true). In other words Europe and America stress out about still another species of tiny blue butterfly, while Snow leopards are disappearing from the Himalayas.

An approach not practiced yet, should be to reintroduce ecological-equivalent species where they have been destroyed, in the richest countries. American deserts used to have camels. Cheetahs used to catch American Pronghorn antelopes. Rare camelids and rare cheetahs (there are subspecies) should be bred in zoos, and reintroduced. At least these two species are not very dangerous. Reverse hereditary engineering in the future would allow to make the reintroduced species more similar to what used to be.

Reintroducing a megafauna would be an example to the rest of the planet, and would help to find sophisticated ways and technologies to live with dangerous fauna in general (all megafauna is dangerous: even deer kill a lot of people). Awe and respect for nature would grow in the richest and most influential places. A sea with a shark inside is a completely different sea than one with just sardines inside.

But there is a way to go, to change people's mentality. One does not see too many Californian ecological fanatics demonstrating for the reintroduction of the state symbol, found on the California flag, and still in the wilds there a century ago ... the man eating, bull fighting, California grizzly. The Spaniards used to organize fights between grizzlies and bulls, inspired by a Roman tradition. (Maybe if Spaniards had stayed in control, enough grizzlies would still be in California for the games?) The Amur leopard, and the Siberian tiger, could perhaps be put in the wilds somewhere north (Yukon? British Columbia?)... Both are extremely endangered. So is the Snow leopard, another species that needs an expanded range, as its home has shrunk.

Some will say; that's too much. But then why to ask more from those who have less? One does teach just by example, but by sacrifice.



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