Birdwatchers, Noah and Other Remarkable Creatures

| 4/11/2006 12:00:00 AM

Humanity is truly remarkable. Maybe we should take a moment, now and then, to appreciate just how unusual we are.
There's no other species — at least none that we know of — that even considers its impact on the environment. Everybody else just keeps eating and reproducing until they run out of food and water, then they die off until the habitat can again support their population.

If it sometimes feels like that's where we're going, at least we have the comfort of knowing that it's nature's way.

There's not another species that shows concern for the health of the environment. So maybe we shouldn't be too surprised that we're having a tough time getting the hang of it ourselves.

Generally the species of this world are concerned only with their opportunities for propagating their own genes. They don't overpopulate because some natural control prevents them from doing so. Predators. Disease. Starvation.

Humankind promotes a world in which biological diversity is preserved. And we've understood the value of diversity for a long time. The Judeo-Christian gospels support the concept in the story of Noah. "Two by two," and all that. Buddhist and Hindu sages have advocated concern for all creatures from the earliest days of those faiths. Jesus said God notices every sparrow that falls.

The survival of a frog or a sparrow bears no direct relationship to the health and welfare of human beings. There may, or may not, be an indirect connection. Yet we are concerned for our neighbor frogs and chickadees not only as abstract symbols of environmental health but as though the frog were important to us personally. We put pictures of them on our walls. We have statues of them in the garden. We want to save the whooping crane not just in order to maintain some theoretical biological balance. Many people love wild animals and suffer genuine feelings of loss when they are killed. Crowds flock to the beach to help save stranded whales. Birdwatchers congregate along the world's flyways to witness the beauty of the great migrations. We take a personal interest in the health and welfare of our fellow earthlings.

It's tempting, of course, to dwell on our failures. We haven't risen to the challenge of our best intentions. We're still degrading the environment, still allowing our population to climb, still driving other species into extinction.

And we may ultimately fail to achieve our potential. We may spoil our own nest. We could ruin our own habitat. Then we would, like other species before us, precipitate our own extinction, victims of our own success.

But it's miraculous, in some sense, that we can even consider it, that we can acknowledge the negative consequences of our prosperity. No other creature does, so far as we can tell.

And we do succeed, to various degrees, in living a little more gently than we might.

Photo by Bryan Welch

10/24/2010 6:44:20 PM

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