Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Birth of Death

Every species contains a vast amount of information about the world, how it evolved , how it continues to develop, and how we may find a harmonious place within it, the loss of a species is the loss of a biological library. A tropical forest does not resemble a local market, it is thousand times more complex than the Chandni Chowk. Biota craws, swims, swoops and slithers; it buzzes, bores, and burrows, it rots and oozes through forest floors, and estuaries; it take wings, and is submerged in rich black soils; it permeates, devours, and is fecund. But this life has no voice other than out own because extinction is silent and mute. The lost tamarins of Brazil’s Atlantic clear-cut forests cannot speak to us through the tropical plywood panelling in a mobile home; cannot explain that out new habitat wiped out their own. They will not be heard from again. The poet and essayist Gary Snyder writes: "The ending of the lines of so many found sorrow and grief. Death can be accepted and to some degree transformed. But the loss of lineages and all their future young is not something to accept. It must be rigorously and intelligently resisted. Defend all these plants, bugs, and animals equally? Little invertebrates that have never been sent to a zoo or wildlife magazines? Species that are but a hair away from one another? It isn’t just a case of unique lineages but the lives of overall ecosystems ( a larger sort of almost – organism) that are at stake. Some archly argue that extinction has always been the fate of species and communities alike. Some quote a Buddhist teaching back to us: "all is impermanent", indeed. All the most reason to move gently and cause less harm. Largely highly adapted vertebrates once lost, will never return in the forms we have known them. Hundreds of millions of years might elapse before the equivalent of a whale or an elephant is seen again, If ever. The scale of loss is beyond any measure the planet has ever known. ‘Death is one thing, an end of birth is something else’.

We will face what naturalist Jack turner calls the "final loss" – the point in the not-too-distant future when environmental degradation on the planet will no longer require our active participation.

An illustrative example of this principle is a pond when it begins to receive large run-offs of phosphate containing detergents. Ordinarily, as fish create waste and die, detritivores decompose the waste into inorganic products that feed the algae population and invertebrates that become in turn food for the stable fish production. When phosphates drain into a pond, the influx causes the algae to bloom faster than it can be consumed by the slower-breeding fish. As the algae dies, the decomposition uses us much of the available oxygen, causing a die-off in the oxygen deprived fish. The dead fish are more waste, creating more algae, since the fish are not consuming it. The increased level of decomposition lower the oxygen levels even further and what was once a carefully constructed and balanced closed system collapses under the burden of rapid and accelerating growth. Today, we face similar prospects on a global level. Because of potential interactions and feedback loops within the global climate system, a global warming cycle, once begun, may well progress on its own, regardless of whether we continue to combust fossil fuels or due to the release of methane gasses in the Arctic Tundra.


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