We must think ethically about the growing list of animals at risk of extinction
Extinction, as we know, is a very common and frequent phenomenon in nature. We have seen its traces in the fossil record that geography reveals to us: in very ancient times there were cataclysmic events that, by radically changing the environment, pushed towards the disappearance of a large percentage of the species that existed at a certain time. And we have also seen it happen, on a much smaller scale, in our days: numerous species have disappeared due to the effect of the dominant species on the planet, humanity.
There are plenty of cases to report, from the famous Dodo bird, extinct in the 17th century, to the northern white rhinoceros whose last male specimen died in Sudan in 2018. The first concerns about the impact of human ambition on the population of the species It emerged in the mid-16th century, when it became clear that the continuous hunting of animals had led to the disappearance of the most valued species. But the first prohibitions and hunting reserves came in the 19th century, when many endogenous species had already been driven to extinction in Europe: the European bison, the Eurasian horse and the European bull, for example.
The extinction of species at a global level has accelerated since then, since the damage caused by hunting and fishing is added to that caused by pollution and the destruction of natural habitats. The current rate of species disappearance is between 10 and 100 times higher in the last 150 years than in any other period of mass extinction in the geological past. Human beings are causing an impoverishment of planetary biodiversity and, if nothing changes soon, extinct species could number in the millions.
What to do about it? How to think about this dilemma? Is it really our task to protect the life of other species or should we assume it as the darkest part of evolution? What is the ethical perspective that we should assume in this regard?
Behind the survival of the fittest
Millions of years ago, when the first photosynthetic cellular organisms emerged, that is, when photosynthesis began, the atmosphere began to fill with a new element that had been scarce until then: oxygen. And so the Great Oxidation occurred, causing a mass extinction among living beings at the time. Until, one way or another, the first ones who knew how to breathe arose: take advantage of the new superabundant material to obtain energy.
This was a key event in the evolution of life, even though it came at a terrible cost: the extinction of thousands of entire species. But without it, the world as we know it could not exist. Therefore, should we be thankful for the extinction of those species? Doesn’t the same thing happen with the extinction of 75% of existing life at the end of the Jurassic period, in that event that wiped out the dinosaurs and their large relatives?
Extinction, without a doubt, is an amoral event, something that just happens, but that brings with it unpredictable consequences. Especially when it comes to a radical change in the tree of life, like the one that occurred in the previous examples, or like the one that we human beings are creating through our industrial activity and our way of life. That is to say, extinction is the force that eliminates the least fit beings and opens space for the best adapted to come, since life, in one way or another, always seems to make its way.
So perhaps the issue of the impoverishment of the global biome could be understood under that gaze, but not to shrug our shoulders and look elsewhere, but to understand the risks involved in forcing life to choose different paths. Can we perhaps predict the species of animals , plants , fungi or microorganisms that will manage to adapt to the plastic-contaminated world that we are creating? Are we capable of renouncing the biological, medical and physiological treasures that the disappearance of so many species brings with it? Let’s not forget that we know only a percentage of the total existing species, but even those unknown species are suffering from our presence.
The risks of the world to come
From this perspective, the extinction of known species is not a dilemma only for them, destined to vanish from the face of the Earth, but for our own future generations, subjected to an adaptive pressure that we cannot predict. What pandemics will they have to face? What new dangerous species? Will humanity be able to adapt to the world we are creating?
We do not have the answer to these questions, but we do have enough scientific knowledge to think about them, and the answer must therefore be the ethical core of our behavior. The extinction of animal species is immoral, among other things, because it reveals that the very world that gave us origin, that is, the world in which we emerged as a species, is turning into another that is not necessarily compatible with our existence.
On the other hand, it may seem like a small thing to us that some species of insects disappear, but it is impossible to foresee the tail that will leave their emptiness. No doubt new species will take their place sooner or later, but we don’t know which ones, how they will respond to selective pressure, or what our relationships with them might be like.
Therefore, the extinction of animals must be taken as a worrying symptom of a world that is disappearing and another, unknown, that is coming, and in which we may not have a secure place. After all, who guarantees us that we will be the fittest? And how long can we ignore this question?
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Opinion articles are of a subjective, personal and argumentative nature, since in them the author seeks to promote his point of view among readers, that is, to convince them to interpret reality in the same way.