We are not apart from nature. We are part of it. Whatever happens to the air spotted owls breathe, the water and soil that feed the forests they live in, it also happens to the air we breathe, the trees that filter the carbon we we produce, to the water we drink, to the climate that affects it all. That’s what Kameran Onley, director of North American policy and government relations at The Nature Conservancy, means when she says that “America’s biodiversity loss is not just a crisis for species that make up the unique and emblematic fauna of the country; it is a threat to our future.
The climate and the world are changing. What challenges will the future bring and how should we respond to them?
It would be wonderful if Americans came to understand that other creatures have inherent value, regardless of their usefulness to us. That plants and animals are worth preserving for no other reason than their own right to live among us unmolested. I have little hope for such a transformation. Recognizing that our lives are interconnected seems entirely possible, however, even in this time of contention.
The human species cannot live safely on this planet if we do not preserve a deep, rich and innumerable diversity of insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, plants, fungi and any other irreplaceable life form. Knowing that more than a third of the food we eat depends on pollinators, for example, should help clarify for anyone, regardless of party affiliation, why protecting pollinators is not a political position.
But as RAWA’s lead sponsor, Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, told NPR’s Laura Benshoff, “Too many people don’t realize…that roughly one-third of our wildlife is at heightened risk of extinction.” .
Human beings are stubborn and reviled, and finding a way to make that point without engaging in a “Yeah, but” reflex requires speaking the same language. This is part of the reason why RAWA aims to achieve what the Endangered Species Act failed to achieve: conservationists and local leaders tend to understand better than federal officials how to engage local communities to protect habitat and relieve pressure on wildlife before populations drop to critical levels. Skeptics are more likely to believe the testimony of their own ears if the hunter next door notices the fact that the bobwhite quail, which was once the soundtrack of the summer, has all but disappeared. Another angler observing the devastating effect of invasive carp on freshwater fish can often be more convincing than any expert in the news.