Adversity Within Biodiversity (Rev. Lou Snead)
How Much Adversity Can Biodiversity Stand?
Just when we thought that addressing the adverse effects of global warming was the environmental priority of our age, now we are learning that protecting the biodiversity of life on earth may be an even more pressing environmental concern. According to Professor David Macdonald at Oxford University, biodiversity is both the most complex feature of our planet and the most vital. He argues that “Without biodiversity, there is no future for humanity”. This contention rests on several factors. First, that humanity depends on a sustainable ecosystem where a myriad of life forms interact with one another in a symbiotic way. Upset the balance of life forms in the planet's ecosystem too much, some say, and human life is at peril. Like carbon pollution in the stratosphere, there are clear indications that the human impact on the biosphere has damaged and may ultimately destroy the ability of the earth's biodiversity to survive. The assumption here is that human beings have the unique capacity to do irreparable harm to the earth's amazing complexity of biodiversity. Some experts warn that humanity is currently “burning the library of life”, simply out of increases in population and our rapacious anthropocentric appetites.
Others look at the millions of years of evolutionary life processes on earth and see phenomenal levels of adaptability and survival within the planet's biodiversity. Some in this camp place a lot of confidence in the amazing varieties of life forms to continue to find ways to perpetuate themselves. They argue that we have only managed to count 1.7 million species of animals, plants and fungi and there are likely to be 8-9 million and possibly up to 100 million more. This does not include the hundreds of thousands of bacteria life forms known to exist. From this perspective, humankind is simultaneously insignificant, even while being utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth. Now, a new groundbreaking assessment of all life on the planet has noted that the world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things. Yet since the dawn of civilization, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds. Those who subscribe to a belief in life's sustainability on earth suggest that humans may likely destroy ourselves before we jeopardize the survival of the entire biodiversity of the planet.
Like many speculations about Life, some of our viewpoints about the earth's biodiversity are shaped by our religious or ideological beliefs, primarily because only time will tell what will actually happen in the biosphere. Those who insist that a Creator God continues to direct and control the earth's systems and processes tend to guard against notions of human sovereignty over life. Those who believe that Life as we know it has been generated out of millions of years of chemical interactions and evolutionary processes may be less confident about some divine influence to curb human impacts on the earth's biodiversity. The existential adversity facing biodiversity on Earth is shared by a wide range of scientists, but even they differ in terms of any predictable outcomes. Stephen Hawkings thought we should free ourselves from planet Earth because the future of human existence is bleak. E.O Wilson worries as well about a “sixth extinction” due to extreme loses in habitat for numerous species, including humans. Yet, there is no consensus among scientists about what can or will happen in the future. Biologists seem to agree that adverse climate change, pandemics, nuclear holocaust, and even ecological collapses will not ultimately destroy all life forms on Earth, maybe just many of us humans. Assuming that overpopulation among our species presents a clear and present danger for the preservation of other species, a mass eradication of humans in the future (via Nature or human destructive forces) may represent the Earth's greatest hope for maintaining the current biodiversity of the planet.
So, serious questions remain as to what we should work and pray for in terms of the adversities facing biodiversity. As for me, practicing environmental stewardship to protect as much as possible the earth's biodiversity seems like the most prudent and faithful response for all creatures great and small. But those who insist that the interests of humankind should take priority over protecting other life forms represent another kind of adversity for biodiversity. If you don't believe me, ask Scott Pruitt.
Rev. Lou Snead