Is Every Species on the Planet Deserving of Protection?
This is a question that I posted on about 28 months ago, and while I then found the question to be almost naïve – certainly we should do what we reasonably can achieve to protect as many species from extinction as we can – it is still an interesting question to ponder.
Of course “equal protection for all life on Earth” is an infeasible thing. Like it or not, we’re part of the global ecosystem, and we need animal and vegetable products for food, clothing, etc. We’re not going to stop the ‘circle of life’. The key is in responsible management of the species that surround us, whether it be for ocean fisheries, forestry and lumber reserves, hunting stocks, habitats adjacent to land occupied by people, or the release of harmful chemicals into the natural environment.
And even for all of those categories, extenuating circumstances may make protection inadequate. Priorities need to be made. Call it a triage for endangered species if you will.
How do we, or how should we, establish priorities for species protection?
There are a number of programs out there working to assess the impacts of biodiversity loss, habitat loss, and other human impacts that we might be able to address.
One such effort is the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, which was launched by U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan in June 2001, with a major report completed in March 2005, to meet assessment needs of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the Convention on Migratory Species, as well as needs of other users in the private sector and civil society. A related site can be found at Green Facts: Scientific Facts on Ecosystem Change, which popularizes the Millenium Assessments.
Assessments try to put the status of each species into some context of their place in the big picture (I.e., their ecosystems). Some of these assessments have focused on the economic value of natural resources that are being threatened, others on ecological impacts of human activity. Still others focus exclusively on the effects of releasing close to 30 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.
These assessments do not weigh each species as equal. The alternative to this is to compile lists of species showing each one’s status. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List is the most comprehensive place to look for such a list on the internet, providing taxonomic, conservation status, and distribution information on taxa that are facing a high risk of global and regional extinction.
As I mentioned at the top of this post though, protection of each species as equal may be infeasible. So are lists like the IUCN’s a waste of time? No – gathering information on everything possible is the responsible thing to do.
What I think we need are balanced solutions that focus on preserving natural processes and resources; establish priority areas and habitats for protection, and enforce those protections, thereby curbing habitat loss; and educate people about the effects of over-hunting, deforestation, and even suburban sprawl. This won’t save every species, but it will enable us to do what we can, where we can.