The Price of Extinction

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By Ken Gilliland

The biggest headline of the year—perhaps the biggest of the millennium went largely unnoticed by the press in November 2010. Perhaps they didn’t understand the gravity of the news. Perhaps they felt it was too scary, too controversial or too complex for the public to understand. Perhaps Lindsey Lohan or Charlie Sheen’s antics they deemed a more important story. Whatever the reason, the headline faded away without fanfare. What didn’t fade away was imminent peril as sure as a comet hurling to earth.


What was the headline we all missed? The United Nations Council of Bio-Diversity announced that one-in-six species on the planet were on the brink of extinction.


The majority of peer-reviewed biologists stated that we are in the 6th “great extinction of species” that our planet has known. The difference between this extinction and the previous five is that never before has the planet been attacked so severely on all three regions that contain life (air, water and land). The other significant difference is that this extinction is entirely preventable unlike the other 5 in which natural phenomenas were the cause. What is the cause of this mass extinction? A prolific species called “Homo sapien”.


The news gets worse. It is conservatively estimated that in the next 50 years one half of the species will disappear forever from our planet. Losing 50% or more of the species without the thousands of years needed to adapt to change for the remaining species will cause a snowball effect. It will accelerate the extinction of even more species and many more symbiotic chains of shared existence will break down.


What few people realize is how important symbiotic chains are. Imagine no pollinators to make crops produce food. No plant systems to cleanse drinking water. No woodpeckers to keep trees healthy. No trees to balance the air we breathe. Imagine no medicines—because without the natural world—most of the ingredients won’t exist.


As sure as if a comet were hurling to earth, the story the press didn’t tell is that we’re on going to be on that extinction list as well.


What can be done? Can anything help at this point? Yes, it will take tough decisions…the ones that involve sharing our planet with all the other species rather than hoarding it for ourselves and thus, restoring balance. These are decisions that most of our politicians, even the forward thinking ones, don’t want to make… ones that many of us don’t want to make either. It is our job to let our leaders know the time to act is not in twenty years, not in ten, not after the election, but today. Budgets, taxes and jobs won’t matter if there’s no clean water to drink, if there’s no food to eat, or no air to breathe.


Only after the last tree has been cut down.
Only after the last river has been poisoned.
Only after the last fish has been caught.
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

- Cree Indian Prophecy

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