14 January 2010

WHERE DO THEY GO?

14 January 2010

This is the year of biodiversity, a word that seems to have little meaning to most citizens, who express delight in their brushes with “wildlife” like deer, raccoons, or alternately curse the same for their incursions into our property, plantings or garbage. Make no mistake, these are weed species, not wildlife – animals that are adept at adopting themselves to the peculiar adaptive pressures imposed by the dominant species. Our total disarray of the biosphere has made room for these opportunist, adaptive creatures, and squeezed out other, more specific species. Many people in the East Coast suburbs thrill at the sight of a coyote (until it kills the family pet), not knowing that it has no business in this part of the world, surreptitiously crossing the Mississippi on the bridges we built, and filling the void left by the extermination of the wolf. “Why do we care?” you might ask as you curse the deer for eating every bit of fauna in the land, and worry about going in the yard for fear of the lyme ticks…. Exactly. There is a balance in the world that we have erased, to our peril.

One of the largest factors in the extinction crisis is habitat loss caused by deforestation for farming, logging, livestock, etc. A large on-going UN-sponsored study into the economics of biodiversity suggests that deforestation alone costs the global economy $2-5 trillion each year. The “services” that forests and wetlands provide us for free will dwarf the economic crisis when we have to pay for them.

So maybe you don’t care about the disappearance of some obscure bugs or spotted owls, but when vast sums of your hard earned dollars are taken to build water purification systems, you might become an environmentalist after all…