An interesting recent editorial on CNN discussed the concept that we at the onset of a new mass extinction period here on Earth. It is certainly hard to ignore that we are losing the more exotic species such as the Amazon dolphin, black rhinos, and so on, as those animals quickly become the subject matter of popular media given the high profile nature of their state. Just beyond this superficial worry however are the deep implications of species loss across our global ecology, and economy.
High species diversity is among the gifts that evolution has provided to us, and it is not just exciting because we have lots of cool critters to look at. This species diversity serves as a genetic repository of sorts for future adaptation and subsequent sustainability.DNA affords us with the gift to evolve to change in the environment, to new social pressures, and in response to catastrophe. Species diversity, and its resulting genetic diversity, ensures that life as we know it will continue indefinitely for all of our benefit. Wipe out high levels of diversity, and we are setting ourselves up for disaster.
Imagine here in the terrestrial world with a situation where 75% of currently known species were extinct due to abnormal [irresponsible] planetary management. While the human response, or perhaps even root cause of this extinction, is domestication of food sources at a grandiose scale to meet the demands of a population which is 50% larger than today (yes, this day is coming), we are left with a false security that domesticated foods are our saving grace – until nature has its way and wipes it out. Without the natural balance in the world that keeps evolution moving forward, our road becomes one to nowhere.
One might consider that human evolution is on a path to some homogenized genetic perfection, and we may even choose to manipulate our evolution through genetic engineering to get there. Does this make us stronger, or leave us more exposed? I guess it depends on whose end game we are trying to reach. If its about mass conformity and being able to accommodate and manage a growing population, then go for homogenized genetic perfection, however heed the warnings of natural selection. If its about sustainability through thick and thin and ensuring our species survives the mass extinction periods, we need to maintain genetic diversity within our species, just as much as we need to maintain species diversity across the entire planet.
Regardless of our take on evolution and desired outcomes for our future, our [human] stake in the matter is enormous. in fact, it’s all us, and given that, every decision we make will have lasting impacts across all life on this planet. The most difficult communications battle to fight in conservation is illustrating where the vast majority of life on Earth actually is – underwater. Unfortunately, out of sight means out of mind, and that means a tremendous amount of work to be done to connect everyday society with the world of water that could save us, or lead to a premature demise.