We are not apart from nature. We are a part of it. Whatever happens to the air that spotted owls breathe, and the water and soil that feeds the forests they dwell within, also happens to the air we breathe, the trees that filter the carbon we produce, the water we drink, the climate that affects it all. This is what Kameran Onley, the 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 the species that make up the country’s unique and iconic wildlife; it’s 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 worth, independent of their usefulness to us. That plants and animals are worth preserving for no reason but their own right to live among us unmolested. I hold out little hope for such a transformation. Recognizing that our lives are interconnected, however, seems entirely possible, even in this quarrelsome age.
The human species cannot live safely on this planet unless we preserve a deep and rich and multitudinous diversity of insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, plants, fungi and every other irreplaceable life form. Knowing that more than a third of the food we eat depends upon insect pollinators, for example, ought to go a long way toward clarifying to anyone, regardless of partisan affiliation, why protecting pollinators is not a political position.
But as RAWA’s lead House 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 increased risk of extinction.”
Human beings are a stubborn, cussed lot, and finding a way to make that point without engaging a knee-jerk “Yeah, but” requires speaking the same language. That’s part of the reason RAWA stands to achieve what the Endangered Species Act has not: Local conservationists and 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 apt to believe the testimony of their own ears if the hunter next door remarks on the fact that bobwhite quail, which used to be the soundtrack of summer, have all but disappeared. A fellow angler observing the devastating effect of invasive carp on freshwater fish can often be more convincing than any expert on the news.