[Marxism] Just The Basics
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Mon Mar 15 13:24:20 MST 2004
Published March 15, 2004 by the Los Angeles Times
One by One, the World Is Becoming a Lonelier Place
by Joshua Reichert
Last month, with little fanfare, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed
two tropical birds, the Mariana mallard and the Guam broadbill, from its
list of species that are endangered. The birds are extinct, having joined a
growing list of animals that have disappeared from the face of the Earth.
The announcement that these two birds, which were native to the islands of
the western Pacific, had vanished forever elicited little attention. Their
numbers had been declining for decades. And few people, other than the most
avid bird enthusiasts, even knew what they were or had ever seen them. So
there will be few who will mark their passing with the same nostalgia or
sense of loss that might accompany the disappearance of a better known
species like the snow leopard, the Siberian tiger or the black rhinoceros
all on the brink of the same abyss.
The fact that the extinction of these two creatures was virtually a silent
one is a tragedy. Both were the product of millions of years of evolution.
Both were connected to a larger network of species that interrelate and
depend on one another in many ways that still remain a mystery to science.
And both succumbed to the same types of human- induced pressures that
threaten so many other animals in this country and elsewhere in the world:
habitat loss, over-hunting and the introduction of nonnative species against
which they have little or no defense.
Many would ask why we should care that these two birds are no longer here.
The answer is that we now know enough about how the world is put together to
recognize that each species on Earth plays a role in nature. When one
disappears, it is a harbinger of trouble. Just how or when or if the
extinction of one species will affect us in any material way is difficult to
know. However, there are stark examples of how our disregard for other life
forms has imperiled our own survival.
Take, for example, the case of Easter Island. This remote, barren island in
the South Pacific, which is best known for its huge, mysterious stone
statues, was once covered by a subtropical forest. But its Polynesian
inhabitants eventually deforested the island, driving most of its tree
species into extinction along with every species of native land bird. With
no wood available to build boats for fishing, and the soil so depleted that
crops could not be grown, an estimated 90% of the human inhabitants died of
There are many different reasons why we should rail against extinction.
Biologically, because each species is part of a larger, complex assemblage
of living things, we should strive to protect them all, particularly because
we don't understand how each piece fits with the others. There is also a
moral reason. It is that Earth's creatures, great and small, are not simply
here for our benefit but are here with us in the world. As such, we have a
fundamental responsibility to treat them all with respect and a sense of
We are clearly failing in this task. There are more than 12,000 species of
animals and plants that are known to be threatened, 1,816 of which reside in
the United States. And the list gets longer every year.
>From the earliest days of life, many species have come and gone. To a
certain extent, extinction is a natural event. Up until modern times, it is
believed that one to two species per million vanished annually. We are now
losing them far faster, at a rate that is estimated to be up to 1,000 times
as high as in the past. Indeed, many scientists believe that by the middle
of this century an astonishing 25% to 50% of all existing species will be on
the path to extinction.
We have both a practical and an ethical responsibility to ensure that this
does not happen. Every species that disappears represents one less strand in
that remarkably intricate web of life of which we are a part and which
ultimately sustains us.
There were no bells that tolled the departure of the two Pacific birds. But
they should have tolled for us, as a sad reminder of what we have lost and
as a warning for the future.
Joshua Reichert directs the environment division at the Pew Charitable
Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times
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