Ecological Services Be Damned

The Case for Saving Species: We Don’t Need Them, But They need Us.

I hope you’ll read this short essay by Carl Safina, linked above. Some thoughts sparked by it:

He makes the argument for our moral obligation to preserve species, habitat, and the ecological complexity of this, the only living planet we know. (Sure, I think there’s probably life on other planets, but we’re essentially alone here and now.)

He asks which species we can’t live without. Yes, you and I don’t want the great apes, elephants, whales, warblers, bumblebees, and et ceteras to disappear, but would anything actually happen to us if they did? We might be sad, but the majority of humans wouldn’t notice. Humans have survived very well through the slaughter of species. Indeed, we’ve thrived on extinction, environmental destruction, and endless development. Succeeding generations won’t know what has been lost.

A friend tells me that funders of environmental programs and the like will never listen to such arguments as Safina’s, because selfishness is all. It has to be all about us, what’s in it for us, what “ecological services” do these lifeforms provide us, what are the deliverables, the return-on-investment, hallowed be its name? I wonder if this opinion is a factor of the character of those who end up with the money in a world that grotesquely counts wealth (but not commonwealth) as a great value? Selfishness — which ignores or suppresses community, mutual aid, neighborliness, caring — is our primary religion these days, disguised as “common sense.” It is, of course, a crock of shit. Economists are priests bowing before fantasies, rather stunningly clueless about how economies actually work.

“As wild animals disappear, what is lost is the world’s beauty,” writes Safina. True, but I’d expand on his notion of beauty. He contrasts lovely smells with the putrid, but the putrid is a part of life too. Rot and decay are, in fact, essential, parts of it. It may smell bad, but that’s dinner for detritivors and scavengers, for bacteria and beetles, for carnivores and vultures. We can hold our noses and still see beauty and complexity and the wonders of life in death, the recycling, the renewal.

He also notes that the Endangered Species Act is our precedent: “It says that we, the people, don’t let species go extinct, that this is who we are. It’s not about practicality; it’s about morality. The moral compass of species stewardship or loss is already mainstream — loss is bad. Conservationists and rank-and-file nature lovers should not pick that scab by trying to show that nature can and must serve us. The law says we need to serve nature. That’s a lot to work with.”

But we also know that a minority that takes over the state can both re-write laws or simply not enforce existing ones. The Trump/Republican environmental death squads show us that. They’re gleeful about it. The great majority of us don’t agree with these corrupt exploiters (literal and/or figurative rapists), yet ….

1 Response to “Ecological Services Be Damned”



  1. 1 Sunday Thoughts | Backyard and Beyond Trackback on December 8, 2019 at 8:01 am

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