It is common knowledge that the Amazon Rainforest is often referred to as the lungs of the earth—in fact, all of our forests make up this vital organ of ours. So why is that according to the IUCN, we’ve cleared 6 million hectares of them every year since 2000? A single hectare is the equivalent of nearly 2.5 acres, meaning that every year we clear over 14 million acres of forest. This loss of coverage is not only potentially harmful to humans as our ecological footprint grows, but it is also devastating to several endangered species who call the rainforest their home. Due to factors such as deforestation, pollution and climate change, more than 36% of species—both plant and animal—assessed by the IUCN are considered threatened. While the gradual extinction of a species is natural, what we are dealing with currently is the greatest mass extinction since the prehistoric period. In the past, there have been five mass extinctions, but one thing separates this one from the rest: the fact that this one is the fault of mankind.
The World Wildlife Fund reports that 1.5 earths would be required to meet our current ecological footprint. As humans, we pride ourselves on our advancement and our progress, but these all come with a cost—a cost too high for our planet to manage. Because we do not see the extent of the consequences now, it is like we are taking out a loan without considering the interest. When it comes to student loans, there is often an option to defer payments until a number of months after graduation, but these things catch up to us. The difference, though, is that when it comes to the environment, we do not pay with money—we pay with lives.
Whether it is right or wrong, I think self-destruction can be viewed as a romantic concept, though it is equally or more tragic. Addicts are often the face of self-destruction, slaves to their own minds, willing to sell their souls in a moment of desperation for something temporarily pleasurable—but it is not only substance abusers who do this. I think that as a species, we have a chronic issue with tunnel vision. It blocks out the consequences and nearly silences the conscience so that nothing stands between us and our goals. In my opinion, what we do to the earth is comparable to being a guest in someone’s home and taking the liberty of putting prices on parts of it or clearing sections to build something we think is better—but if we do such a thing, what will we do when the sun sets and we find we've exploited our only shelter and have nowhere to sleep at night?
Over 16,000 species are considered to be endangered by the IUCN. While it is my belief that this fact alone should be enough to shake your moral compass, I realize that we are creatures prone to the question, “how does that affect me?” and so perhaps this will get your attention: many of the same things that are wiping out species of plants and animals have the potential to do the same to us. Every day, do we not breathe in the same polluted air and do we not also suffer from our overexploitation of resources, just as the animals do? In addition, some call rainforests "nature's medicine cabinet," but the rainforests aren't our only important biomes. The Nature Conservancy estimates that 51% of drugs used to fight cancer come from nature and in particular, coral reefs. Despite this, 99% of our oceans are left unprotected. If we continue to abuse the things that are vital not only to plants and animals, but also to ourselves, are we not digging our own graves? Everything comes with consequence and this is no exception. By contributing to habitat loss, pollution and global warming, we threaten all species—including our own.
As humans, we have this idea that in order to be successful, mankind must conquer those we have labeled as being beneath us, ignoring the fact that we often harm our own in the process—but what is it that makes a man that is worth praising? One who would conquer the vulnerable and put his own at risk in the process, ignoring the consequences so that he might attain glory? Or one who would choose not to do harm to any, sacrificing glory so that he might hear the cries of the voiceless? In the past, many have fit into that first description. They say our way is just human nature, but I say that if we do not make a change, human nature will be our downfall.
International Union for Conservation of Nature. “Why Is Biodiversity in Crisis?” IUCN.org. IUCN. Web. 11 April 2015.
World Wildlife Fund. “What Is An Ecological Footprint?” WWF.org. World Wildlife Fund. Web. 12 April 2015.
IUCN 2015. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. 15 April 2015.
The Nature Conservancy. "Coral Reefs and Cancer: Coral Reefs Saved My Life." Nature.org. The Nature Conservancy. Web. 17 April 2015.