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There is grandeur in this view of life… whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to thefixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and mostwonderful have been, and are being, evolved. CHARLES DARWIN, The Origin of Species

… the multifarious forms of life envelop our planet and, over aeons, gradually but profoundlychange its surface. In a sense, life and Earth become a unity, each working changes on the other.

LYNN MARGULIS, Five Kingdoms

EVERY CHILD who has marvelled at the growth of a plant from a seed, observed thetransformation of a frog’s egg into a tadpole or witnessed the emergence of a butterfly from itscocoon understands in the most profound way that life is a miracle. Science cannot penetratelife’s deepest mystery; music and poetry attempt to express it; every mother and father feels itto the core.To the centre of the world you have taken me and showed the goodness and beauty andstrangeness of the greening Earth, the only mother.

BLACK ELK, quoted in T.C. McLuhan, Touch the Earth

Early thinkers recognized the four elements necessary for life—air, water, earth and fire. Butthey did not know that the collective effect of living things themselves had played a vital handin shaping and maintaining those elements. Life is not a passive recipient of these elementalgifts but an active participant in creating and replenishing them.A thought exercise is useful to illustrate the critical role that all life plays in providing what

aboriginal people refer to as the four sacred elements: earth, air, fire and water. Imagine thatscientists have created a time machine that takes us back four billion years before life arose onthis planet. If we rush out of the time capsule to investigate this sterile world, we’d be dead inminutes because the prebiotic atmosphere, although rich in water vapour and carbon dioxide,lacked oxygen. It was only after life discovered photosynthesis that oxygen was released as aby-product of the capture of sunlight. This process transformed the atmosphere over millions ofyears producing the air that animals like us depend upon.Suppose we anticipated these inhospitable conditions and have stored tanks of air that we

can strap on before exploring the Earth. After a few hours in the warmth (water and carbondioxide are greenhouse gases), we would get thirsty, but any water would be questionable fordrinking because there are no plant roots, soil fungi or other microorganisms to filter out heavymetals and other potentially dangerous leachates from rock. We would get hungry, but, ofcourse, since every bit of the food we eat was once alive, there would be nothing to eat. Even

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if, in addition to a supply of food, we brought some seeds to grow fresh vegetables, we wouldfind no soil in which to grow anything because soil is created when living organisms die andtheir carcasses mix with the matrix of clay, sand and gravel.And suppose at the end of the day on this lifeless planet, we feel homesick and decide to

light a campfire for comfort. There would be no fuel to burn because every bit of our fuel—wood, dung, peat, coal, oil, gas—is formed by life. Furthermore, even if we had brought fuel,we couldn’t burn it because without oxygen, no flame could ignite. This incredible journeythrough time reveals that the web of all life keeps the planet hospitable.Life maintains its unique handiwork by means of its extraordinary power to diversify—to

adapt to opportunities as they present themselves and to create new opportunities in theprocess. No single species is indispensable, but the totality of all life-forms maintains thefecundity of Earth. Thus, the diverse array of life itself may be regarded as another of thefundamental elements that support all living things. Biodiversity must take its place beside air,water, earth and fire, the ancient creators of the planet’s fertility and abundance.The components of the natural world are myriad but they constitute a single living system.There is no escape from our interdependence with nature; we are woven into the closestrelationship with the Earth, the sea, the air, the seasons, the animals and all the fruits of theEarth. What affects one affects all—we are part of a greater whole—the body of the planet.We must respect, preserve, and love its manifold expression if we hope to survive.

BERNARD CAMPBELL, Human Ecology

LIFE AND DEATH: CONJOINED TWINS

Life and death are a balanced pair. It is a strange irony that death has been a critical instrumentin the persistence of life. Humanity’s age-old dream of eternal life, if ever realized, would lockany species into an evolutionary straitjacket, eliminating the flexibility required to adapt to theplanet’s ever-changing conditions. By allowing adaptive change to arise in successivegenerations, individual mortality enables species to survive over long periods of time.In the end, however, the species proves as mortal as the individual. Over the sweep of

evolutionary time, it is estimated that 30 billion species have existed since multicellularorganisms arose in the explosion of life in the Cambrian era, 550 million years ago. Onaverage, scientists believe, a species exists for some 4 million years before giving way toother life-forms. It is estimated that there may be about 30 million species on Earth today—thatmeans 99.9 per cent of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. But all forms of life onthe planet today have their beginning in one cell that arose in the oceans perhaps as long as 3.8billion years ago, and from the perspective of the vital force imbued in that first cell, life hasbeen astonishingly persistent and resilient.THE INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF ALL LIFE

The forest is one big thing—it has people, animals and plants. There is no point in savingthe animals if the forest is burned down. There is no point in saving the forest if the animalsand people are driven away. Those trying to save the animals cannot win if the people tryingto save the forest lose.

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BEPKOROROTI, quoted in “Amazonian Oxfam’s Workin the Amazon Basin”

No species exists in isolation from all others. In fact, today’s estimated 30 million species areall connected through the intersection of their life cycles—plants depend on specific insectspecies to pollinate them, fish move through the vast expanses of the oceans feeding and beingfed upon by other species, and birds migrate halfway around the world to raise their young onthe brief explosion of insect populations in the Arctic. Together, all species make up oneimmense web of interconnections that binds all beings to each other and to the physicalcomponents of the planet. The disappearance of a species tears the web a little, but that web ishighly elastic. When one strand is rent the whole network changes configuration, but so long asthere are many remaining strands to hold it together, it retains its integrity.We have to feel the heartbeats of the trees, because trees are living beings like us.

SUNDERLAL BAHUGUNA, quoted in E. Goldsmith et al.,Imperilled Planet

All life ultimately depends on energy from the sun, which is exploited by plants andmicroorganisms through photosynthesis (as we have seen, only a very small number ofmicrobial species, which are said to be chemosynthetic, can oxidize inorganic substances suchas nitrogen and sulfur to obtain energy or can utilize energy coming from the core of theplanet). The primary consumers of the photosynthetic and chemosynthetic organisms areherbivores as varied as grasshoppers, deer and krill, which in turn provide sustenance forprimary carnivores such as spiders, wolves and small squids. Secondary carnivores such astoothed whales, eagles and humans feed on primary carnivores and are furthest away from theoriginal exploiters of energy. Eventually, all parts of the network will be reprocessed bydecomposing organisms and returned to the Earth (Figure 6.1).THE INVISIBLE WORLD

It is humbling to realize how restricted our perception is compared with other creatures on thisplanet. Our view of the world is created by the degree of sensitivity of our sensory organs. Weare aware of how limited this can be each time we watch the peregrinations of a dog as it runsfrom hydrant to tree, breathing in a world of impressions, the chemical signatures left by otheranimals that indicate their age, sex and species, as well as how long ago they were there.Insects can respond to a single molecule of pheromone floating in the air. Other animals, fromblack-tipped sharks to fiddler crabs, sense changes in barometric pressure and can thereforeanticipate changes in weather long before humans can. Our ears lack the ability to detect thehigh-pitched sounds that help bats manoeuvre, capture prey and avoid predators. We are deafto the low-pitched frequencies that are the songs of marine leviathans echoing through oceanshalfway around the world. The seismic communication of elephants—vibrations receivedthrough the feet and nerve-riddled, ultra-sensitive tip of the trunk—pass by us undetected. Ourvision is limited to wavelengths of light that our sense organs can detect in the range from redto purple. We can’t see infrared as the rattlesnake can or the ultraviolet light that guides insectsto specific flowers.

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FIGURE 6.1: A food chain in a temperate ecosystem.Adapted from Science Desk Reference (New York: Macmillan, 1995) p. 463.

As air-breathing animals, we are ignorant of the vast range of diverse marine and freshwaterecosystems and the plants and animals that have adapted so wonderfully to them. Being held toEarth’s surface by gravity, few of us have seen the planet as a soaring bird has or as membersof communities dwelling in forest canopies have. Nor do we have the subterranean perspectiveof the burrowing animals, plants and microorganisms that spend most of their lives beneath ourfeet. As animals of the day, we are insensitive to the interplay of creatures that are active atnight.Our light receptors cannot resolve objects in the size range of single cells, and so we are

blind to the vast numbers and variety of microscopic life in a single drop of pond or oceanwater or a pinch of soil. Of course we have compensated for our physical shortcomings bycreating technologies that extend our sensory range. We detect the symphony of inaudiblesounds through machinery that can make their patterns visible or audible. We can detectextremely low concentrations of molecules—drugs, explosives, dna—in the air or adhering toobjects.But it is microscopy that has opened a whole new world to us. What a wondrous shock it

must have been to the pioneers who first saw the cosmos of bizarre forms in staggeringabundance and variety revealed by magnifying lenses. These miniature organisms were theonly life-forms for most of the time that Earth has been animated, and even today they have abiomass equivalent to or greater than that of all of the ancient forests, great herds of mammals,

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vast flocks of birds, enormous schools of fish and countless insects taken together. (For somesense of scale, in her book The Garden of Microbial Delights, Lynn Margulis tells us there area hundred thousand microbes per square centimetre of human skin!) This vast universe of life,invisible to our species, has carried on as the dominant organisms on the planet for billions ofyears. As we marvel at the large creatures—ancient trees, birds, mammals—we owe our veryexistence to the teeming universe of microscopic lives.

Tinkering with Life

One of modern biology’s great insights has been the recognition that dna is the blueprint of life,dictating the physical makeup of all multicellular organisms. By elucidating its moleculestructure as a double helix, Watson and Crick began a revolution that now allows scientists tocreate organisms virtually at will. Today, scientists can isolate, purify, sequence and synthesizespecific genes and then transfer them between unrelated species. This ability has led to anexplosive growth in biotechnology, wherein spectacular new organisms are created by genetransfer: strawberries resistant to frost because of an implanted fish gene that producesantifreeze; rice rich in blindness-preventing vitamin A; bananas implanted with genes allowingthem to produce antibiotics. The list is only restricted by one’s imagination. The notion ofcreating designer organisms for human benefit is irresistible.Biotechnology is trumpeted as a means to eliminate starvation and suffering by increasing

yields for a growing human population, creating crops resistant to pests and generating newdrugs. Yet the risks of genetically engineered organisms or their products, like the risks of DDTor CFCS when they were first introduced, are largely unknown, because our basic knowledgeabout how cells, organisms and ecosystems work is too limited to allow us to anticipate therepercussions of manipulating these organisms’ genes. The terrible error in biotechnology isthinking that genes exist and function in isolation. A gene is part of a greater, integrated whole—the genome—which has been selected and honed to turn off and on whole suites of genes inproper sequence and timing from fertilization to maturity, a network of gene relationships andconnections we are just beginning to tease apart and reveal. A gene transferred from onespecies into another finds itself in a totally alien context leaving us little ability to anticipateconsequences, much like removing Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones and inserting him intothe New York Philharmonic orchestra and asking him to make music. Sounds will emerge, butwhether they will be music is unknown.It is the context that makes a gene relevant. As, Richard Strohman, a biochemist and former

Head of Molecular and Cell Biology at Berkeley, says:

When you insert a single gene into a plant or animal, the technology will work…you’ll get the desired characteristics. But you will also…have produced changes inthe cell or the organism as a whole that are unpredictable…Genes exist in networks,interactive networks which have a logic of their own… And the fact that the industryfolks don’t deal with these networks is what makes their science incomplete anddangerous… We are in a crisis position where we know the weakness of the geneticconcept, but we don’t know how to incorporate it into a new, more completeunderstanding.

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We live now in the “Age of Bacteria.” Our planet has always been in the “Age of Bacteria,”ever since the first fossils—bacteria, of course—were entombed in rocks more than 3 billionyears ago.

STEPHEN JAY GOULD, “Planet of the Bacteria”

NATURE IS CYCLICAL

Natural systems are deeply entwined—and they are circular, one species’ waste becominganother’s raw materials or opportunity so that nothing goes to waste (Figure 6.2). The cycliclinking of different species is illustrated by the exquisite life cycle of the five species ofPacific salmon, which are renowned for their incredible abundance. Even though fewer thanone in ten thousand fertilized eggs may reach adulthood, the survivors return from the ocean totheir natal streams at maturity by the tens of millions. From the moment a salmon begins life atfertilization, it runs a gauntlet of predators—trout, ravens and fungi in fresh water; killerwhales, eagles and seals when it migrates to the oceans. Even in death salmon providenourishment: their carcasses are food for bacteria and fungi, which feed microscopicinvertebrates, which eventually nourish the emerging fry that are the salmon’s own offspring.Birds and mammals, bellies swollen with their bonanza of salmon carcasses, spread nutrientsfrom the salmon across the forest floor in their droppings. To human predators, the salmon lifecycle may seem “excessive” or “wasteful,” but in the cycle of living things, nothing goes towaste.Early in the history of life, Nature began to shape new species to fit into habitats alreadyoccupied by other species. Never since the Archaean Period has a living thing evolvedalone. Whole communities have evolved as if they were one great organism. Thus allevolution is coevolution and the biosphere is now a confederation of dependencies.

VICTOR B. SCHEFFER, Spire of Form

Human beings depend on Earth and its life-forms for every aspect of their survival and life.It is impossible to draw lines that delineate separate categories of air, water, soil and life. Youand I don’t end at our fingertips or skin—we are connected through air, water and soil; we areanimated by the same energy from the same source in the sky above. We are quite literally air,water, soil, energy and other living creatures.

FIGURE 6.2: Groups of organisms classified by food consumption.Adapted from Cecie Starr and Ralph Taggart, Biology: The Unity and Diversity of Life, 6th ed.

(Belmont, ca: Wadsworth, 1992), fig. 40.8.

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WHY BIODIVERSITY IS IMPORTANT

From the earliest times we humans have used our massive brains to exploit the variety ofspecies surrounding us. We learned which plants were edible and how to catch animals thatwere faster or stronger than we were. We learned how to use the natural defences of animalsand plants, tipping arrows with poison, stunning fish in rivers. The medicinal properties ofother species healed our ills, their beauty decorated our bodies, and their skins protected ours,as clothing and shelter. The diversity of living things in different ecosystems is demonstratedby the range of uses we have found for other creatures as we spread and settled across theworld.

Salmon Forests

Along the west coast of North America, pinched between the Pacific Ocean and the coastalmountains, is a temperate rain forest that stretches from California to Alaska and boasts thegreatest biomass (weight of living things) of any ecosystem on the planet. It is a rain forestbecause it rains a lot, but one of the mysteries of this ecosystem is how such huge trees—redand yellow cedar, Douglas-fir, Sitka spruce, hemlock and balsam—can flourish when essentialnitrogen is in limited supply because it is washed from the soil. The answer to this puzzleillustrates the exquisite interconnectedness of life.We have long known that salmon born in coastal rivers and streams need the forest to keep

the waters cool, to retain the soil (which, in turn, prevents erosion) and to provide feed forbaby fish, because when a watershed is clearcut, salmon populations plummet or disappear.But now we are learning that the forest needs the fish, too.Almost all of the nitrogen in terrestrial ecosystems is the isotope nitrogen-14 (14N), but in the

oceans, there is a relatively high concentration of the heavier isotope nitrogen-15 (15N). Whenthe salmon go to sea, they consume 15N-laden prey and accumulate the isotope in their tissues.Upon reaching maturity and migrating back to their natal streams, the salmon’s protoplasm isladen with 15N. Eagles, ravens, wolves, bears and dozens of other organisms feed on the

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carcasses of spawned out salmon and then distribute the marine nitrogen throughout the forestin their feces. During the spawning season, bears may consume up to six hundred fish each.They usually carry a captured salmon up to 150 metres away from the river before eating partof it and then returning to catch another. The remains of the carcass are then eaten bysalamanders, beetles, birds and other creatures, including flies that hatch as maggots. The 15N-filled maggots mature and fall onto the forest litter, where they pupate over winter to emergethe next spring as flies in time to feed birds migrating from South America on their way to theArctic. Salmon that die in the river sink to the bottom and are soon covered in a thick blanketof fungus and bacteria, which in turn feed insects and other invertebrates. So when the fryemerge from the spawning gravel four months later, the waters are filled with a banquet of 15N-laden food that fed on the carcasses of their parents.And now the mystery of the huge trees in coastal rain forests is solved. Salmon represent the

single largest pulse of nitrogen fertilizer spread by other creatures that the trees get all year.That record can be deduced by measuring the amount of 15N in tree rings and correlating thosedata with the size of the annual runs.Humans, with our political, economic and social priorities, assign various facets of the

salmon’s vast reach to different ministerial departments. Departments responsible forcommercial, sport and native food fisheries handle the salmon themselves; the department offorestry handles the trees; environment, the whales, eagles and bears; agriculture and energy,the rivers; mining, the mountains and rock; and so on. We fail to account for theinterconnectedness of ocean, forest and northern and southern hemispheres, therebyfragmenting the integrity of this system and guaranteeing that we will never manage itsustainably. When we domesticated animals and plants, only ten thousand to twelve thousand years ago,

human life changed forever, vaulting to another level in the evolution of culture. All thedomesticated animals and plants that human beings depend on today were once wild, and wecontinue to need the genetic diversity that exists in wild populations—that diversity is stilllife’s major defence against changing conditions. For this reason alone humanity has anabsolute need to protect biological diversity: it is a matter of sheer self-interest. Biodiversityhas its own worth regardless of how it serves people. As French philosopher CatherineLarrère says, “All living organisms, through their existence and their use of complex, non-mechanical strategies to survive and reproduce, have their own value. Beyond that, biologicaldiversity itself, because it is the product of evolution and also the condition for itscontinuation, has its own intrinsic value…”Another compelling argument for protecting biodiversity is the unfortunate fact that we know

next to nothing about most species on Earth. We know there is a web of life, but every time westudy a small section of the web we discover what seems to be an infinity of interconnections.The more we learn, the more we realize how much else there is to learn about the way life actsand interacts to survive.THE MOLECULAR BLUEPRINT

The past few years have made us aware as we have never been before of the depth of kinshipamong all living organisms… So all life is akin, and our kinship is much closer than we had

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ever imagined.

GEORGE WALD, “The Search for Common Ground”

By studying dna, molecular biologists have verified that all living organisms are geneticallyrelated. The central novelty of the movie Jurassic Park was the discovery of an ancientmosquito preserved in amber whose gut carried intact pieces of dinosaur DNA. Were it a truestory, the even more remarkable fact would have been that both the mosquito’s DNA and thedinosaur’s DNA could be shown to carry segments identical to genes found in every one of us.Through our evolutionary history, we are related to all other beings present and past—they areour genetic kin. When we see other species as our relatives rather than as resources orcommodities, we will have to treat them with greater care and respect. In the words of BlackElk:

It is the story of all life that is holy and is good to tell, and of us two-leggeds sharingin it with the four-leggeds and the wings of the air and all green things; for these arechildren of one mother and their father is one Spirit.

Indeed, all life forms are our relations. Whereas it may not be too hard to grasp that humansand apes share about 98 per cent of their genes, it may be more of a stretch to realize thathumans share about 85 per cent of their genes with mice. What’s more, we carry hundreds ofgenes that are similar, and in many cases, identical, to genes found in fruit flies, roundworms,yeast and even bacteria.The evolutionary unity of humans with all other organisms is the cardinal message ofDarwin’s revolution for nature’s most arrogant species.

STEPHEN JAY GOULD, The Mismeasure of Man

IN PRAISE OF GENETIC DIVERSITY

How does life achieve its extraordinary resilience? In the early 1960s, when new biochemicaltechniques were developed, scientists began to analyze the products of specific genes carriedby individuals of a species. To their great surprise, the biologists discovered a large number ofhitherto undetected gene variants, or different forms of the same gene, within a species.Geneticists refer to this diversity as genetic polymorphism; it seems to be the means by whicha species responds to changing environmental circumstances. Most gene variants apparentlyhave little or no effect on the way the product they specify functions, so they are referred to asneutral differences, neither beneficial nor detrimental in a given environment.But neutrality is temporary and relative. When conditions in the surrounding environment

change—in acidity, salinity or temperature, for example—then different forms of one gene canspecify products having quite dissimilar functional activities or efficiencies. In humans, aclassic example is a gene variant or mutation called sickle cell that affects hemoglobin in theblood. When people carry two copies of the mutant gene (inheriting one from each parent), theysuffer from a condition known as sickle-cell anemia, which is extremely painful and oftenlethal. Those who carry one copy of the sickle gene and a normal gene are normal, except inplaces where malaria is rampant. In such places these people have a greater resistance to the

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parasite than people who carry two normal genes.THE IMPORTANCE OF VARIATION

In my own work with the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, I was able to recover chemicallyinduced mutations that are invisible (that is, not expressed) under certain conditions butproduce an abnormality when grown under a different environmental regime. The mutations Istudied were influenced by temperature—at one temperature, the flies were completelynormal, yet a shift of as little as 5° or 6°C would result in a variety of mutant expressions. Idiscovered such environmentally determined expression of genes causing everything fromvisible abnormalities in wings, eyes or legs to reversible paralysis or death. When globalweather patterns and average temperatures fluctuate as a result of climate change, thosespecies with genes that enable individuals to function properly or better at the newtemperatures will be the survivors who will carry on.… in the great majority of species, somewhere between 10 and 50 percent of genes arepolymorphic. A typical figure is roughly 25 percent.

EDWARD O. WILSON, The Diversity of Life

Genetic polymorphism is crucial to a species’ survival. When a species such as thewhooping crane or Siberian tiger is reduced to a handful of survivors, its long-term future is indoubt because the range of its genetic variability has been radically diminished. Thus, it hasfewer options for adapting to changes in the environment. Furthermore, in a small population,there is a greater likelihood that recessive genes that are lethal or that threaten viability whentwo copies are present will be exposed. A diverse mixture of gene variants is a fundamentalcharacteristic of a vibrant, healthy species, a reflection of its successful evolutionary historyand continued potential to adapt to unpredictable change.Population geneticists believe that the most successful species (where success is defined by

long-term survival) are found in many isolated pockets or islands that are connected by“bridges” across which a constant trickle of individuals passes. Thus, each isolated communitycan evolve a set of genes adapted to its local habitat, while the occasional migrant becomes ameans of introducing “new blood”—different genes with a new potential to respond to change.In recent times, large-scale industrial agriculture has taught us an expensive lesson—

reducing genetic diversity by the widespread use of a single selected strain of a crop, knownas monoculture, is extremely risky because it makes a species vulnerable to change. In 1970,approximately 80 per cent of the 26.8 million hectares planted in corn in the United Statescarried a genetic factor for male sterility. But that trait, so useful to seed companies, was itsAchilles’ heel, rendering the strains vulnerable to a specific parasite. Within three months, adevastating southern corn blight had swept across the continent, affecting virtually all fields.Overall losses were 15 per cent, but many farms lost 80 to 100 per cent of their corn that yearfor a total cost of $1 billion.Monoculture counters life’s evolutionary strategy. In fish hatcheries, the broad genetic

polymorphism of wild stocks of fish such as salmon are displaced by large numbers ofhatchery-reared fingerlings grown from eggs and sperm taken from a few fish selectedaccording to their size. Again, this type of selection reduces genetic diversity, and decreased

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diversity is one of the causes of catastrophic declines in salmon returns. Foresters havebelatedly recognized that tree plantations of fast-growing strains of commercially valuedspecies lack the resilience of wild forests when pests, fire and other perturbations occur.High levels of genetic diversity provide the biological mechanisms needed to maintainproductivity and forest health during periods of environmental change… reductions ingenetic diversity predispose forests to environmentally-related decline in health andproductivity.

GEORGE P. BUCHERT, “Genetic Diversity: An Indicator of Stability”

ECOSYSTEM STABILITY IN DIVERSITY

An ecosystem is a complex community of producers, consumers, decomposers anddetritivores, which interact within boundaries imposed by their physical surroundings to cycleenergy and material through the web of life. In any ecosystem, the eaters and the eaten arejoined through a web of interdependence. A kind of biological warfare is constantly wagedbetween predator and prey, host and parasite, as each species jockeys for an upper hand.Mutations or new gene combinations conferring an advantage for one species are soon matchedby a countering response in the other species to restore a balance. For example, a fungalparasite may develop an enzyme that digests the cell wall of a plant more efficiently, enablingit to penetrate its target species more readily. But in the population of its host organisms,individuals with thicker or tougher cell walls will be more likely to survive and reproduce.Over time, the parasite will have to come up with another innovation to penetrate the host’simproved defences. So although there is a constant state of flux and change, the long-termoverall effect is a standoff between the various constituents of ecosystems.Tropical rain forests, believed by biologists to be home to most species on Earth, are a vast

patchwork mosaic of diversity in which particular species are often severely confined by theirhabitat requirements to small areas within the forest. Agroforestry expert Francis Hallé saysthat introduced species do not spread in tropical forests the way the purple loosestrife plant,for example, has exploded in North America, because the area of potential habitat is smallerand there are always many potential predators to keep any introduced species under control.Just as genetic diversity confers resilience on a species, diversity of species within any

ecosystem is also a factor in maintaining balance and equilibrium within that community ofcreatures. Species diversity, like genetic polymorphism within a species, appears to be anevolutionary survival strategy within whole ecosystems.Across the broad expanse of the planet there exists a vast assortment of climatic and

geophysical conditions—from the searing heat of deserts to the frigid cold of the permafrostabove the Arctic Circle, from steamy equatorial river systems to dry grasslands, from thedepths of the oceans to the soaring heights of rarefied mountains kilometres above sea leveland to the intertidal junction between air, land and sea. Life has found ways to seizeopportunities and flourish under all of these conditions. “Extremophiles,” organisms that livein Earth’s most extreme places, show us the versatility of life. It seems there is no place on ourplanet devoid of life: NASA scientists revived a bacterium in 2005 that had sat dormant in afrozen Alaskan pond for 32,000 years; soil samples taken from the ocean’s deepest point 11

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kilometres down are filled with single-celled organisms called foraminifera; and entirecommunities of organisms, including clams, tube worms, and bacteria, thrive aroundhydrothermal vents synthesizing energy from chemicals in the water rather than from sunlight.Every ecosystem contains a variety of species—and each species possesses its locallyconfined set of genes. So even where species diversity is relatively limited—as, for example,in boreal forests—the genetic variation within a species in one watershed will differ from thatwithin the same species in the next watershed. Every ecosystem is unique and special. Everyecosystem is local.In this way, Earth itself is a mosaic of diversity within diversity, a patchwork of ecosystems,

species and genes. Over time, this fabric of interconnections has been torn by major upheavals,most recently in North America by the rapid extermination of billions of passenger pigeons,millions of bison and vast tracts of short-grass prairie and old-growth forests. The persistenceof plants and animals after such catastrophic change is testimony to the tenacity of the planet’sbiodiversity.HUMAN CULTURAL DIVERSITY

Human beings have extended diversity to yet another level. The successful evolution of ourspecies has depended on the brain’s gifts of memory, foresight, curiosity and inventiveness—and its recognition of patterns and cycles in the world around us. Our ability to exploit oursurroundings and to pass on with language the lessons acquired by failure and successaccelerated the pace of human evolution. Humans have had an added edge in culture. Everyindividual human being must begin life from the same starting point, as an infant, laboriouslyacquiring all the accumulated lore and beliefs of society until he or she is ready to become aproductive adult. But culture grows steadily, without having to go through the same learningcurve every generation. Compared with rates of biological change, culture evolves withlightning speed—and for this reason we have come a long way in a relatively short time.Using molecular techniques to measure degrees of biological relatedness in dna, scientists

can identify the origins of human beings and trace their movement across the continents.Population biologists have concluded that a mere 195,000 years ago, the ancestors of all ofhumanity arose along the great Rift Valley of Africa. From there, they radiated out—northeastacross the Sahara, southwest into what is now South Africa, northward across the Arabianpeninsula and west to India (Figure 6.3).

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FIGURE 6.3: The spread of human beings across the planet.The numbers indicate number of years ago.

Adapted from John Pickrell, “Instant Expert: Human Evolution,” New Scientist,http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn9990. Accessed April 3,2007.

From these new locations they fanned out into Europe and Russia, from New Guinea toAustralia, into Siberia and across the Bering land bridge to the Americas. Although people arewonderfully diverse in skin colour and facial and other physical features, the most significantdifferences between groups of human beings are not biological but cultural and linguistic.In many animals, genetically encoded instinctive behaviour has enabled them to persist and

survive. In contrast, the great strategy in our species has been the evolution of a massive braincapable of assessing sensory information and therefore deliberately making choices. Most ofour instinctive behaviour has been replaced by flexibility, an ability to change patterns ofbehaviour on the basis of observation and experience. Culture and language have been ourcrucial attributes, enabling us to adapt to a wide range of surroundings and conditions. AsVandana Shiva has said:

Diversity is the characteristic of nature and the basis of ecological stability. Diverseecosystems give rise to diverse life forms, and to diverse cultures. The co-evolutionof culture, life forms, and habitats has conserved the biological diversity of thisplanet. Cultural diversity and biological diversity go hand in hand.

Just as genetic diversity within a species and the variety of species within an ecosystemallow single species or whole ecosystems to survive in the face of changing conditions, sodiversity of traditional knowledge and culture have been the main reason for our success. Wehave adapted to environments as diverse as the Arctic tundra, deserts, tropical rain forests,prairie grasslands and modern megacities. If variation of genes in a species that is adapted tolocal conditions provides a buffer against catastrophic change, then cultural diversity has beenjust as crucial to humanity’s continued vigour and success in a variety of ecosystems.Ethnobotanist Wade Davis has defined the sum of all cultures, which have been so critical to

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human survival in so many different ecosystems, as the ethnosphere. Scientists are rightlyconcerned about the rapid extinction of species within the biosphere, but Davis points out thatthe threat that 50 per cent of all human languages may disappear by the middle of this centuryought to arouse just as much concern.One might suggest that the long and gnarled path of evolution might arrive at a point where

the very “best” genetic or species combination or “ideal” human society has been achieved andshould then spread globally to replace all “less advanced” forms. Diversity would then betotally outmoded. If global conditions were unchanging and uniform, it is at least theoreticallypossible that there might be a most highly evolved and stable society or species. But in nature,“best,” “superior” and “advanced” are nonsensical terms because on Earth conditions arenever constant. The nature of the biosphere—that thin layer of air, land and water within whichlife can be found—is that change, albeit often at a geological snail’s pace, has alwaysoccurred, so there can never be one perfect or ideal state. Nature is in constant flux, anddiversity is the key to survival. If change is inevitable but unpredictable, then the best tactic forsurvival is to act in ways that retain the most diversity; then, when circumstances do change,there will be a chance that a set of genes, a species or a society will be able to continue underthe new conditions. Diversity confers resilience, adaptability and the capacity for regeneration.THE LIVING PLANET

From genes to organisms to ecosystems to cultures—at every level the patchwork diversityadds up to a single living whole. The final sum may be Earth itself. Many cultures have mythsin which the planet we inhabit is perceived as alive—as a creative force, a nurturing goddessor a collection of powerful spirits. And modern science may be providing corroboratingevidence for such a view of life on Earth. When the first images of our planetary home weretaken by astronauts in space, the beauty of the blue orb cloaked in white lace was breathtakingand changed our perception of Earth. This is our home, free of human borders and boundaries,a single integrated whole with a thin ephemeral layer within which life flourishes.A scientific expedition from another galaxy in search of life in the universe might reasonably

conclude from observing this planet that it is a living entity. The tenacious layer of protoplasmthat wraps the Earth has survived and flourished through endless planetary upheavals.Continents have drifted around the globe, mountains have thrusted skyward, gaseous mixturesin the atmosphere have waxed and waned, and the temperature has fluctuated from tropical heatto the frozen grip of ice sheets. No life-form managed to survive this turmoil on its own butdepended on help from other organisms.A single cell can be a complete organism, possessing all of the genetic material and

molecular architecture to respond to the environment, grow and reproduce. Multicellularorganisms such as sponges and slime moulds may have complex life cycles, yet when theirindividual cells are isolated each can grow and multiply as if it were a complete organism—orthe cells can reassemble themselves into the multicellular aggregate that behaves as a singleorganism.In fact, each cell in our bodies is an aggregate of species functioning as a single entity. In the

1970s biologist Lynn Margulis resurrected a theory that structures called organelles foundwithin cells of complex organisms are actually the evolutionary remnants of bacterial

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parasites. Armed with the tools of molecular biology, she showed that organelles are able toreproduce within a cell and even possess DNA and distinct hereditary traits. So, Margulisproposed, organelles were once free-living organisms that invaded cells and were eventuallyintegrated into the host as mitochondria and chloroplasts. Giving up their independence, thesemicrobial relics received nourishment and protection from the host cell. Thus, each of us is acommunity of organisms. We are each an aggregate of trillions of cells, every one of which isinhabited by numerous descendents of parasites; they now provide services for us in return foran ecological niche.By sheer numbers, chloroplasts and mitochondria, rather than humans, are Earth’sdominant life forms. Wherever we go, the mitochondria go too, since they are inside us,powering our metabolism: that of our muscles, our digestion, and our thoughtful brains.

LYNN MARGULIS, Symbiotic Planet

Almost all of the 60 trillion cells that make up our bodies carry the entire genetic blueprintthat specifies the development of a complete person. In principle, then, each cell has thepotential, if triggered to read from the beginning of the instructions, to form another person orclone. Every cell may function according to the demands of the tissue or organ of which it is apart, just as every person may work according to the demands of his or her occupation. Buteach of us, like every cell, carries out many activities that we people do regardless of the jobwe have. As individuals, we cannot escape being part of families, communities or nations,which have their own characteristics and behaviour. Many other species are also part of largergroups.SUPERORGANISMS

I once asked Harvard University’s eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson why ants are sosuccessful. He has spent his entire career studying these ubiquitous insects, and he gave ananimated response. Although the number of species of social insects is in the tens of thousands,there are millions of other nonsocial insects. But the social insects dominate the world becausethey behave, says Wilson, as a “superorganism.”

A colony of ants is more than just an aggregate of insects that are living together. Oneant is no ant. Two ants and you begin to get something entirely new. Put a milliontogether with the workers divided into different castes, each doing a differentfunction—cutting the leaves, looking after the queen, taking care of the young,digging the nest out and so on—and you’ve got an organism, weighing about 10kilograms, about the size of a dog and dominating an area the size of a house.

The nest involves moving about 40,000 pounds of soil and sends out greatcolumns of workers like the pseudopods of an amoeba, reaching out and gatheringleaves and so on. This is a very potent entity. It can protect itself against predators. Itcan control the environment, the climate of the nest. When I encounter one of thesebig nests of leaf cutter ants, I step back and let my eyes go slightly out of focus. Andwhat you see then is this giant, amoeboid creature in front of you.

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It was a thrilling description that lets us contemplate ants in a very different way.In 1992, scientists in Michigan made the astounding announcement that the network of

mycelia, threadlike extensions of fungi found in the ground, could be derived from a singleindividual, not an aggregate of different organisms. They reported a single organism thatextended throughout 16 hectares! Amazingly, even that impressive record has been surpassed,and in a big way. In 2003, a root-rot fungus, Armillaria, covering 890 hectares was found in anOregon forest.When a person is part of a system, he cannot easily see what his role accomplishes… Unlesshe understands the system thoroughly, he will not have any inkling of the network ofcontrols that may or may not exist to keep the flow(s) continuous, adapted to inputs, adaptedto outside demands, and stabilized in the face of fluctuations.

HOWARD T. ODUM, Environment, Power and Society

A grove of quaking aspen, the lovely white-barked trees whose leaves shimmer at theslightest puff of air, is, in fact, a single organism. Like a strawberry plant that sends out runnersthat put down roots and sprout leaves, quaking aspen multiply vegetatively. Shoots may growup from a root 30 metres away. Thus, the aspen is another kind of superorganism that canexploit a diverse landscape—some parts may grow in moist soil and, through their commonunderground roots, share the water with other portions, perhaps growing in mineral-rich soilhigher up. In Utah, a single aspen plant made up of 47,000 tree trunks was discovered. Itcovers an area of 43 hectares and is estimated to weigh almost 6 million kilograms.So if at each level of complexity—cell, organism and ecosystem—new kinds of structures

and functions emerge, then the total of all life on the planet can be taken as a single entity too.A single envelope of atmosphere encircles the Earth, while water flows around the

continents, creating great islands (Figure 6.4). The entire conglomerate of living things makes awonderfully complex, interconnected community held together by the matrix of air and water.The entire layer of protoplasm (the living material within cells) on the globe is intermeshedinto a living, breathing entity, which has survived through an immensity of time and space.People are fond of applying mechanical metaphors to living systems: the heart is a pump,

lungs are bellows, and the brain is a switchboard or computer; Earth itself is often referred toas a spaceship. But it is a mistake to compare living systems with machines. Mechanicaldevices constantly wear out with time unless they are carefully maintained and repaired bypeople. Living things persist on their own, healing, replacing, adapting and reproducing inorder to continue. If the total of all life on Earth is a superorganism, then it must haveprocesses that perpetuate its survival.

FIGURE 6.4: The continents as an island in a planet of water.Adapted from a satellite portrait entitled “Our Spaceship Earth” (Burlington, Ont.: WorldSat

International Inc., 1995).

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James Lovelock has called that totality of the living Earth Gaia, the ancient Greeks’ name forMother Earth.Gaia is as indifferent to our fate as the stars. In the long run, the biosphere survives but itsspecies do not… Virtually all of the species that have ever lived on this planet are nowextinct. At times… half of the species on the planet have gone extinct almost at once. Thenext one hundred years may be such a time again. The story of life is punctuated by IceAges, volcanic winters, meteoritic collisions, mass dyings. And at the moment it ispunctuated by us.

JONATHAN WEINER, The Next Hundred Years

Lovelock has pointed out that human activity is a major perturbation in the biophysicalmakeup of the planet. Many organisms can undoubtedly take advantage of the new conditionscreated by our disturbances. Life is opportunistic, and when a change occurs, life-forms willbe there to find a use for it. Thus, large tracts of clearcut forests often quickly “green up” withvegetation, and ungulates such as deer use the abundant foodstuff to grow and multiply. Nodoubt microbial species will flourish on our waste, just as gulls have a heyday in garbagedumps. But Gaia’s feedback mechanisms take place over time, without regard to which speciesultimately survive or disappear. The idea of Gaia, or the totality of the living Earth, mayprovide the comforting thought that life will survive the current spasm of human-inducedextinction, but we should also remember that it will not ensure our own survival.NEW RELATIONSHIPS

The intriguing hints and tantalizing clues emerging from the laboratories and the minds ofmodern scientists are creating a new story to give meaning and significance to our presence.We are creatures of Earth, created out of stardust, energized by the sun, carrying with usfragments of the first life-forms—evidence of our kinship with every other creature on theplanet. As Earth beings we share in life’s basic survival method—diversity, both biologicaland cultural—and we are honed by evolution to live in the company of our fellow life-forms.Armed with our emerging worldview, we find ourselves back on centre stage, holding the fateof our newfound family—and our own—in our trembling and incompetent hands.In the cities inhabited by an increasing proportion of humanity, the links between human life

and the lives of other creatures are often obscured by technology. Besides providing us with

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clean air, soil and water, other living organisms make our lives possible every day in countlessfundamental ways. Every bit of our food was once living, however its source is disguised.Sugar, flour, vegetables, fruit, meat and spices nourish and delight us. When we clotheourselves in cotton and wool, consume wood, plastics and fossil fuels, or fertilize our fieldswith manure, we are beneficiaries of once-living organisms. Insects fertilize plants that wedepend on, horses and oxen provide muscle power, plants and animals are the source of manymedicines. Body and soul, we are nourished by nature.

James Lovelock and the Concept of Gaia

James Lovelock began his career in medical research. In his quest to find ways to detectmolecules in minute quantities, he developed an instrument so sensitive it could detect partsper trillion. Using the machine, he discovered CFCS in the atmosphere above Antarctica,thereby leading to the discovery that the ozone layer was being depleted.In the early 1960s he was asked for advice in the design of the Surveyor spacecraft that was

to explore the moon. Soon after, NASA asked Lovelock to design experiments for the Vikingspacecraft that would search for life on Mars. Ruminating on the problem, Lovelock had tothink about life itself, what it is and what distinguishes it from nonlife. He realized that Marsand Venus have atmospheres composed almost totally of carbon dioxide, with no free oxygen.In contrast, Earth’s atmosphere has small amounts of carbon dioxide and is 21 per cent oxygen.Although oxygen is a highly reactive element and tends to be removed from the atmosphere,plants continually release more oxygen to compensate for this loss.What is remarkable is that the level of oxygen has remained relatively constant over a long

period of time. A small increase to perhaps 25 or 30 per cent oxygen could cause theatmosphere to burst into flames, while a decrease to 10 per cent would probably be lethal tomost life-forms. Something has kept the amount of oxygen at just the right concentration formillions of years.Lovelock reasoned that the oceans became salty by the leaching of minute quantities of salt

from rock and soil into rivers and streams that flow to the sea. Why, then, haven’t the oceansbecome saltier and saltier? Similarly, why haven’t rising levels of carbon dioxide increasedthe temperature on Earth? On Venus, the carbon dioxide–rich atmosphere has turned the planetinto an oven. In contrast, the thin atmosphere of Mars, which is low in carbon dioxide, cannotretain heat, and so the planet is frigid. Yet here on Earth the oceans haven’t boiled away, eventhough the sun’s intensity has increased by 25 per cent since the sun was formed. Something haskept the temperature of Earth and the salt concentration in the oceans relatively constant.Lovelock’s daring conclusion was that the total of all living things on Earth has somehow

kept the concentration of carbon dioxide and oxygen, the amount of salt in the ocean and thesurface temperature constant—not consciously or deliberately, but as part of an automaticprocess, just as our bodies increase our heart rate when we exercise or repair wounds whenwe are hurt. But now, technology has allowed us to generate massive quantities of greenhousegases far faster than Gaia’s capacity to remove them. Eventually, compensatory changes mayreduce carbon dioxide levels, but not before tremendous ecological changes occur. Gaia’spersistence plays no favourites on which species survive or disappear.

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Whereas our species once lived lightly on Earth, today we have exploded in numbers,technological dexterity and demand for consumer goods to such a degree that we are now co-opting much of the planet’s productivity for our use. In the process, we deprive other speciesof habitat and opportunity and so drive them to extinction. Stanford University ecologist PaulEhrlich’s group estimated that human beings, one species among millions, now harness for ouruse 40 per cent of the net primary productivity of the planet. That is, of all the sunlight capturedby plants, human beings deny a large portion of it to other species by using it for pasture,farmland, logging and so on. Our appropriation of this energy makes it unavailable for otherspecies and drives them out of existence.As we drain wetlands, dam river systems, pollute air, water and soil, clearcut vast tracts of

forest, and develop land for agriculture, urban sprawl or industrial parks, the biodiversity thatis the source of the planet’s productive capacity is diminished. As a result, the world isexperiencing a catastrophic rate of species extinction.An indication of the unprecedented rate and scale of human activity is graphically illustrated

by Alan Thein Durning in his paper “Saving the Forests: What Will It Take?”:

Imagine a time-lapse film of the Earth taken from space. Play back the last 10,000years sped up so that a millennium passes by every minute. For more than seven ofthe ten minutes, the screen displays what looks like a still photograph: the blueplanet Earth, its lands swathed in a mantle of trees. Forests cover 34 percent of theland. Aside from the occasional flash of a wildfire, none of the natural changes in theforest coat are perceptible. The Agricultural Revolution that transforms humanexistence in the film’s first minute is invisible.

After seven and a half minutes, the lands around Athens and the tiny islands of theAegean Sea lose their forest. This is the flowering of classical Greece. Little elsechanges. At nine minutes—1,000 years ago—the mantle grows threadbare inscattered parts of Europe, Central America, China and India. Then 12 seconds fromthe end, two centuries ago, the thinning spreads, leaving parts of Europe and Chinabare. Six seconds from the end, one century ago, eastern North America isdeforested. This is the Industrial Revolution. Little else appears to have changed.Forests cover 32 percent of the land.

In the last three seconds—after 1950—the change accelerates explosively. Vasttracts of forest vanish from Japan, the Philippines, and the mainland of SoutheastAsia, from most of Central America and the horn of Africa, from western NorthAmerica and eastern South America, from the Indian subcontinent and sub-SaharanAfrica. Fires rage in the Amazon basin where they never did before, set by ranchersand peasants. Central Europe’s forests die, poisoned by the air and rain. SoutheastAsia resembles a dog with mange. Malaysian Borneo appears shaved. In the finalfractions of a second, the clearing spreads to Siberia and the Canadian north. Forestsdisappear so suddenly from so many places that it looks like a plague of locusts hasdescended on the planet.

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The film freezes on the last frame. Trees cover 26 percent of the land. Three-fourths of the original forest area still bears some tree cover. But just 12 percent ofthe Earth’s surface—one-third of the initial total—consists of intact forestecosystems. The rest holds biologically impoverished stands of commercial timberand fragmented regrowth. This is the present: a globe profoundly altered by theworkings—or failings—of the human economy.

Seen this way, the planet’s forests are being irrevocably lost in what amounts to a mere tickof the geological clock. Plotted over a mere ten millennia, the curve of forest devastation leapsalmost straight off the page in our lifetime. And if we add to that graph the generation ofpollution, loss of topsoil, increase in human numbers, production of greenhouse gases and soon, the curves all climb vertically in the very last moments. Individual disasters such asChernobyl, large clearcuts, the explosion at Bhopal, the construction of megadams or oil spillsare merely part of a terrifying spasm of annihilation.… it is not Christ who is crucified now; it is the tree itself, and on the bitter gallows ofhuman greed and stupidity. Only suicidal morons, in a world already choking to death,would destroy the best natural air-conditioner creation affords…

JOHN FOWLES, quoted in T.C. McLuhan, Touch the Earth

EXTINCTION CRISIS

Our tenuous inferences about life in the past are based on fossil remains suggesting that speciesexpand in number and complexity and then are suddenly reduced through successive spasms ofextinction. Scientists have identified five major extinction crises over the past 500 millionyears, in which at least 65 per cent of all species known in the fossil record of the timedisappeared. The fossil record is highly skewed—95 per cent of the quarter of a millionknown fossilized animal species are marine creatures. Nevertheless, these five majorextinction episodes show groups of species disappearing on a massive scale, suggesting thatthe events were global. The Big Five were at the end of the Ordovician (440 million yearsago), late Devonian (365 MYA), end Permian (245 MYA), end Triassic (210 MYA) and endCretaceous (65 MYA). People often think that the dinosaurs were evolutionary losers becausethey suddenly disappeared, but the fact is that they ruled the land for some 175 million years. Incontrast, our species has been around for less than 1 million years.Following each major extinction, it has taken millions of years for the species that remain to

branch out, expand in number and complexity, and restore the level of biodiversity that existedbefore each crash. In the words of Edward O. Wilson:

The five previous major spasms of the past 550 million years… each required about10 million years of natural evolution to restore. What humanity is doing now in asingle lifetime will impoverish our descendants for all time to come.

We are fortunate to have evolved when biological diversity has been at the greatest levelever achieved. Succeeding human generations will not be as fortunate: the current extinctioncrisis is without precedent—never before has a single species been responsible for such amassive loss of diversity. In essence, humans are the catalyst driving Earth’s sixth major

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extinction event.When the first European settlers arrived in what is now the United States, the continent wascovered by an estimated 3.2 million km2 of forest. In just 500 years, all but 220,000 km2have been cleared.

EDWARD GOLDSMITH et al., Imperilled Planet

By comparing the estimated rate of species loss today with the changes observed in thefossil record, Wilson concludes that the present extinction rate is “1000 to 10,000 times higherthan existed in prehistoric times.” Based on the current rate of destruction of tropical rainforests (about 1.8 per cent per year), about 0.5 per cent of all species are gone or goingannually. More than half of all species live in tropical rain forests, and if we conservativelyestimate that there are 10 million species, then the rate of extinction is more than 50,000species a year—that’s 137 a day, 6 an hour! This is an extremely conservative estimate, sinceit doesn’t include species lost through pollution, nonclearcutting forest disturbances and theintroduction of exotic species. Wilson’s calculations have led him to conclude that if humanactivity continues to expand at the current rates, at least 20 per cent of Earth’s species willhave disappeared in thirty years. Already, he suggests, since human beings arrived on thescene, we have been responsible for the elimination of 10 to 20 per cent of all species thatexisted during that period.It is widely agreed that changes to biodiversity due to human actions have occurred more

rapidly in the past fifty years than at any time in human history. As of 2006, approximately onein three amphibians, one in four coniferous trees and mammals, and one in eight birds arethreatened with extinction. The oceans are particularly under threat with 20 per cent of theworld’s coral reefs and 35 per cent of the world’s mangroves lost in the last two decades. Inthe North Atlantic, the biomass of larger fish at the top of the marine food chains (for example,cod) declined by two thirds during the second half of the twentieth century alone and by afactor of nine during the entire century. In 2003, a paper in the journal Nature revealed theurgency: only 10 per cent of all the large fish—including open ocean species such as tuna andmarlin, and groundfish such as cod and halibut—remain in our oceans. Most alarming is ourlack of restraint when new fish communities are discovered. The same study, which took tenyears to compile, also showed that it took industrial fishers only ten to fifteen years to depletefish communities to one tenth of their original size. It is no wonder that Nobel laureate PaulCrutzen has dubbed our epoch the Anthropocene, after the humans that have had a significantimpact on the Earth’s ecosystems and climate. The most frightening aspect of the currentextinction crisis is our ignorance of and lack of concern for what we are losing. According toJohn A. Livingston:

We have seen the bison, the trumpeter swan, and the bighorn sheep fall before thegunners; we have seen the prairie dog, the black-footed ferret and the whoopingcrane give way before the sod-busters; we have seen the giant baleen whalesreduced to the vanishing point by international commercial greed. Most significant ofall, perhaps, has been the unchanging traditional assumption that although the loss ofthese animals may well have been regrettable, it was inevitable and unavoidable in

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the context of the advancement of human progress…

What is relevant is that, if for no other reason than his own survival, man mustsoon adopt an ethic toward the environment. “The environment” encompasses allnonhuman elements in the one and only home we have on Earth.

PRESERVING THE WEB OF LIFE

Although extinction is as necessary to the evolutionary process as species formation, it hasaccelerated at an unprecedented rate as a result of human depredation. There are many reasonsto be alarmed by the loss of species, all of them completely selfish. Perhaps the shallowest isregret for loss of species whose potential utility for humankind is yet to be discovered.Another is that species such as spotted owls or marbled murrelets serve as “indicator species”of the state of the planet, just as canaries did for the state of air in coal mines. In other words,when such species disappear, they indicate that the planet as a whole may have become lesshabitable in a way that may be relevant to humanity.The emerging viruses are surfacing from ecologically damaged parts of the Earth. Many ofthem come from the tattered edges of tropical rain forest or tropical savanna that is beingsettled rapidly by people. The tropical rain forests are the deep reservoirs of life on theplanet… [including] viruses, since all living things carry viruses. In a sense, the Earth ismounting an immune response against the… flooding infection of people, the dead spots ofconcrete all over the planet…

RICHARD PRESTON, The Hot Zone

As a biologist, I find it much more compelling to regard the current makeup of life on Earthas the latest stage in evolution—the reason the planet is as productive as it is. Even though wehave little understanding of what the components of this complex web of life are, we knowwith absolute certainty that it is the web as a whole that has made it possible for human beingsto exist. To tear at the web in such a massive way with so little regard for our own future is akind of collective insanity that is suicidal.In 1990, the Worldwatch Institute designated the next ten years the Turnaround Decade, the

period during which it was essential to shift the trajectory of human activity to a sustainablelevel. The 1990s passed by, and now more than halfway through the first decade of a newmillennium, the planet is exhibiting increasingly troubling signs of stress. Many of us arealarmed and have been trying to find the best strategy for action. The famed Americanenvironmentalist David Brower has called for a program of CPR for the planet. Brower’s cprstands for “Conservation, Protection and Restoration” and is deliberately used as a reminderof cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, which was the original source of the acronym. Brower oncetold me that he believes that restoration must be our priority in the years to come, and I agree.But how? Science provides tiny, fragmented insights into the natural world. We know next to

nothing about the biological makeup of Earth’s life-forms, let alone how they areinterconnected and interdependent. Nor do we understand the physical features and complexityof the atmosphere, landmasses and oceans. It is a dangerous delusion if we think we knowenough to “manage” forests, climate, water or wild ocean or land animals.

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Since after extinction no one will be present to take responsibility, we have to take fullresponsibility now.

JONATHAN SCHELL, The Abolition

Extinction, of course, is irreversible. And even heroic measures to keep an endangeredspecies going don’t stand much of a chance without profound changes in human behaviour andgenuine protection of the species’ habitat.The thin layer of biological complexity within the biosphere ensures the productivity and

cleanliness of the soil, air and water. Only time and nature safeguard these life-supportingelements and keep them intact. Remarkably, if we pull back and decrease or halt our assault ona given environment, nature can restore itself. We have seen life return to Lake Erie, oncedeclared “dead” from eutrophication, vegetation revive around Sudbury after sophisticatedscrubbers were installed to reduce acidic emissions from smelter stacks, fish reappearing inthe River Thames in England after antipollution laws were imposed.Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure aslong as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of birds, theebb and flow of tides, the folded bud ready for spring. There is something infinitely healingin the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after the night andspring after the winter.

RACHEL CARSON, Silent Spring

Even though we can’t re-create what no longer exists, there are things we can do to stimulatethe natural process of regeneration. First we must rein in our destructive ways and thenprovide conditions to encourage the return and regrowth of life. We can liberate land andcreeks from rubbish, concrete or asphalt, cultivate specific vegetation and even reintroduceplant or animal species that were once present. But mainly, we must give Earth’s restorativepowers time to act. There are projects that could be inspirational models for beginning to healthe planet. From Japan to Canada, people are working to “daylight” creeks and rivers—that is,to reexpose water systems that have been buried under urban development. Once the water isopened to the air, freed from concrete coffins, allowed to flow across soil and surrounded byplant life, it can support life again and purify itself and its surroundings. Australians have alsoundertaken an economic and ecological analysis indicating that it would be practical to takedown a bitterly opposed dam that flooded the Pedder River in Tasmania twenty years ago. Inthe United States, wolves have been reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park, while free-ranging herds of bison are being returned to parts of Montana and Wyoming.

A Day in the Life

Economic growth is necessary to satisfy the needs of all members of society. But this growth isat the expense of the rest of life on Earth, and it behooves us to reflect on what best satisfiesour needs and brings us happiness. I was able to do that in 1989, when my six- and nine-year-old daughters, my wife and I were guests of the Kayapo leader Paiakan in the village of Aucre,deep in the Amazon rain forest. For ten days, we lived a simple life, sleeping in hammocks

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stretched inside a mud hut. The nearest settlement was a fourteen-day canoe trip, and the twohundred residents of Aucre had no plumbing, tap water or electricity. The pace of life wasleisurely. Often we awoke to find a roomful of children inches away, observing us. We wereobviously the entertainment for that non-television-watching audience. Breakfast might bebananas or guavas and leftovers from the night before. We would drink fresh water from aspring and meet socially with others for a long morning swim while the children and womenfished for a delicious fish they called piaau.Each day we went on expeditions through the forest to gather fruits and edible plants or

travelled by dugout canoe in search of fish, turtle eggs or capybara. In the village, wewitnessed a spectacular three-day festival to celebrate women and their fertility, observed anemotional funeral for an old man who had died of tuberculosis and watched the men weavestraps to carry babies, or feather headdresses. There was time to reflect, play, observe andlearn. My daughters wept when our ten-day visit was over and we had to leave.What a contrast with our daily life in the rich, industrialized country of Canada. My days are

spent working on television programs in Toronto, or at the David Suzuki Foundation or theUniversity of British Columbia in Vancouver, which is my home. My time is set by obligationsand commitments—the clock, my secretary and the daily schedule dictate my every activity. Iwake to an alarm in the morning and race through a shower, make breakfast and lunches for thegirls and then zip to the office for a round of answering calls, reading mail and fulfillingrequests. The day is fragmented into short intervals that preclude any time for observation orreflection.As a boy, I loved to read articles about the world of the future when robots and machines

would serve our every need and free us to read, play and interact with others. Well, that futurehas arrived. In my home, I have a microwave oven, instant foods, computer, fax, modem,telephone and answering machine, hair dryer, dishwasher, television and VCR, stereo and CDplayer, and a clothes washer and dryer. But life has accelerated as we race through it, and thereis little time to watch and think. Thinking back to our time in Aucre, I often ask myself whatthis way of life and all of the material things are for. Am I happier or freer now than when wewere swimming in the river, fishing or singing in Aucre? My children are not yet caught up inthe turbulence of the adult world and economics, so it’s small wonder they knew the answer tomy question. That’s why they wept when we left Aucre. In small ways as well as large, there are signs that we are turning away from destroying

natural systems. Native flora are replacing exotic, chemical-dependent, high-maintenancelawns and bedding plants on public and private land in cities and towns across Canada,providing habitat for insects, birds and small mammals. Organic farming is beginning tobecome an economic alternative, as demand for pesticide-free produce grows, allowing soilorganisms to thrive and multiply in the service of productivity. And individuals are becominginvolved in small local conservation projects that enable many forms of life to co-exist withhuman beings.In the past, it was possible to destroy a village, a town, a region, even a country. Now it isthe whole planet that has come under threat. This fact should compel everyone to face abasic moral consideration; from now on, it is only through a conscious choice and then

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deliberate policy that humanity will survive.

POPE JOHN PAUL II, “The Ecological Crisis:A Common Responsibility”

Humanity has shown itself capable of heroic acts of courage and sacrifice in times of crisis.When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, North Americans knew thatlife would never be the same. They didn’t debate economic cost; they knew they had to dowhatever it took to win—and they did. The ecological holocaust that has been loosed on theplanet is the equivalent of “a million Pearl Harbors happening at once,” in Paul Ehrlich’swords. The challenge is to make the extinction threat as real as Pearl Harbor.From his work studying ants of the world, Edward O. Wilson offers this humbling

perspective:

If we were to vanish today, the land environment would return to the fertile balancethat existed before the human population explosion. But if the ants were to disappear,tens of thousands of other plant and animal species would perish also, simplifyingand weakening the land ecosystem almost everywhere.

In the end, the crucial change is attitudinal; we have to see ourselves in a differentrelationship with the rest of nature.

THE CANTICLE OF BROTHER SUN

Most high, omnipotent, good LordTo you alone belong praise and gloryHonor, and blessingNo man is worthy to breathe your name.Be praised, my Lord, for all your creatures.In the first place for the blessed Brother SunWho gives us the day and enlightens us through you.He is beautiful and radiant with his great splendour,Giving witness of you, most Omnipotent One.Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Wind

And the airy skies, so cloudy and serene;For every weather, be praised, for it is life-giving.Be praised, my Lord, for Sister WaterSo necessary yet so humble, precious, and chaste.Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,Who lights up the night,He is beautiful and carefree, robust and fierce.Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, Mother Earth,Who nourishes and watches us

Suzuki, D. (2009). The sacred balance : Rediscovering our place in nature. Greystone Books.Created from washington on 2022-05-06 04:38:33.

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While bringing forth abundant fruits with coloured flowersAnd herbs.Praise and bless the Lord.Render him thanks.Serve him with great humility. Amen. SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI

Suzuki, D. (2009). The sacred balance : Rediscovering our place in nature. Greystone Books.Created from washington on 2022-05-06 04:38:33.

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How it Works

  1. Clіck оn the “Place оrder tab at the tоp menu оr “Order Nоw” іcоn at the bоttоm, and a new page wіll appear wіth an оrder fоrm tо be fіlled.
  2. Fіll іn yоur paper’s іnfоrmatіоn and clіck “PRІCE CALCULATІОN” at the bоttоm tо calculate yоur оrder prіce.
  3. Fіll іn yоur paper’s academіc level, deadlіne and the requіred number оf pages frоm the drоp-dоwn menus.
  4. Clіck “FІNAL STEP” tо enter yоur regіstratіоn detaіls and get an accоunt wіth us fоr recоrd keepіng.
  5. Clіck оn “PRОCEED TО CHECKОUT” at the bоttоm оf the page.
  6. Frоm there, the payment sectіоns wіll shоw, fоllоw the guіded payment prоcess, and yоur оrder wіll be avaіlable fоr оur wrіtіng team tо wоrk оn іt.

Nоte, оnce lоgged іntо yоur accоunt; yоu can clіck оn the “Pendіng” buttоn at the left sіdebar tо navіgate, make changes, make payments, add іnstructіоns оr uplоad fіles fоr the оrder created. e.g., оnce lоgged іn, clіck оn “Pendіng” and a “pay” оptіоn wіll appear оn the far rіght оf the оrder yоu created, clіck оn pay then clіck оn the “Checkоut” оptіоn at the next page that appears, and yоu wіll be able tо cоmplete the payment.

Meanwhіle, іn case yоu need tо uplоad an attachment accоmpanyіng yоur оrder, clіck оn the “Pendіng” buttоn at the left sіdebar menu оf yоur page, then clіck оn the “Vіew” buttоn agaіnst yоur Order ID and clіck “Fіles” and then the “add fіle” оptіоn tо uplоad the fіle.

Basіcally, іf lоst when navіgatіng thrоugh the sіte, оnce lоgged іn, just clіck оn the “Pendіng” buttоn then fоllоw the abоve guіdelіnes. оtherwіse, cоntact suppоrt thrоugh оur chat at the bоttоm rіght cоrner

NB

Payment Prоcess

By clіckіng ‘PRОCEED TО CHECKОUT’ yоu wіll be lоgged іn tо yоur accоunt autоmatіcally where yоu can vіew yоur оrder detaіls. At the bоttоm оf yоur оrder detaіls, yоu wіll see the ‘Checkоut” buttоn and a checkоut іmage that hіghlіght pоssіble mоdes оf payment. Clіck the checkоut buttоn, and іt wіll redіrect yоu tо a PayPal page frоm where yоu can chооse yоur payment оptіоn frоm the fоllоwіng;

  1. Pay wіth my PayPal accоunt‘– select thіs оptіоn іf yоu have a PayPal accоunt.
  2. Pay wіth a debіt оr credіt card’ or ‘Guest Checkout’ – select thіs оptіоn tо pay usіng yоur debіt оr credіt card іf yоu dоn’t have a PayPal accоunt.
  3. Dо nоt fоrget tо make payment sо that the оrder can be vіsіble tо оur experts/tutоrs/wrіters.

Regards,

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