Why protect nature?

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The preservation of intact ecosystems and natural unspoiled regions is among the most urgent tasks facing our generation. Its importance is primordial among the multiple imperatives that determine the future of a post-industrial society capable of ensuring sustainable development….

We can start out by asking ourselves how to justify the protection of nature, and why we must replace some biocenoses with human intervention, even though similar questions can seem inappropriate to any reader of this work.

Conservation of species

Why should we worry about the fate of endangered species and preserve as much biodiversity as possible?

Arguments in favour of such a proposition can fall into several categories of a scientific, economic, or cultural nature.

a) Scientific Justifications for Conservation

There are multiple scientific reasons. Too many species of animals, and sometimes plants, were destroyed in different ways in the past, and indeed this continues today, without any biologist having had the time to study them. Worse yet, an immense number of living species, greatly exceeding a minimum of one million taxa in the most pessimistic estimate (Wilcox, 1998), is condemned to disappear over the next half-century in the only tropical rain forests in the world if the current rates of deforestation that began in the mid 1980s continue.

The catastrophic consequences of the rapid disappearance of such a considerable number of living species are evident on a scientific level. Not only will this irreparable loss be felt in the taxonomy domain – the majority of these species have not yet even been described – and in the evolutionary one, but it will also have serious consequences for fundamental research, since some rare species with remarkable biological particularities enable spectacular advances in the understanding of numerous essential biological phenomena….

Moreover, one of the major ecological aspects specific to living species that justifies their conservation involves their role in the maintenance of fundamental ecological processes. In some cases, the extinction of a single species, by altering the homeostatic mechanisms of an ecosystem, is likely to disrupt a biogeochemical cycle or any other fundamental ecological process in a way that damages the entire ecosystem….

In addition … it is absolutely indispensable to conserve controls (of continental environments) for future scientific research done in the interest of coming generations. These generations will certainly need rare species to restore the ecosystems damaged by their ancestors’ lack of foresight.

b) Economic Justifications for Conservation

The protection of the biosphere’s animal and plant gene pools is, moreover, essential for other economic reasons that are just as fundamental.

In reality, the major economic role that wild species have played until now, and their still considerable potential in terms of scientific, agricultural and industrial innovation, presents a decisive argument in favour of their protection.

Even a summary analysis of this aspect of the protection of nature demonstrates just how necessary conservation of species and ecosystems is, if humanity desires sustainable development.

As the UICN already emphasized in 1980, “The preservation of genetic diversity is a gauge of the future and a necessary investment to maintain and improve agricultural, forestry, and halieutic production to keep options open for the future, and to resolve unfavourable changes that arise in the environment …”

c) Aesthetic and Cultural Justifications for Conservation

Numerous other arguments could actually be found to justify the protection of flora and fauna as well as the ecosystems of which they are part. These are recreational, aesthetic, cultural and ethical….

Despite the importance of the diverse socio-economic considerations found above, the protection of nature seems even more indispensable to us due to its irreplaceable aesthetic, cultural and educational role. Splendours of natural life interest an increasingly larger part of the public.

One example is the incessant growth in the number of wildlife photography enthusiasts or, better still, the unprecedented success of mainstream press publications dedicated to flora and fauna, which testifies to the average person’s increasingly strong interest in the natural environment. Popular magazines quickly figured out how to make the most of this recent awareness of the aesthetic and cultural value of the living world.

“Ecotourism” has developed for some years, especially in Central America, and is essentially practiced by amateur naturalists who have a passion for the observation of tropical flora and fauna….

d) Ethical Justifications for Conservation

Finally, we can ask ourselves, what gives humanity the right to commit the ultimate genocide, which is unprecedented in the history of the universe, and will lead to the destruction of millions of living species?

In times where the “right to be different” is often evoked indiscriminately …, why does it only apply to our species?

It should be noted, moreover, that the respect for all living beings is formulated in a way that is, at the very least, implicit in all the great human religions….

This principal of respect that men owe to different forms of life was reaffirmed with solemn ceremony over the course of the last two decades by the officials representing the great monotheistic religions, generally even before the Convention on Biological Diversity was enacted in Rio.

On the whole, we are now witnessing the emergence of a new philosophical and particularly ethical concept, that of the right of each plant and animal species to survive, along with the consequence that it’s humanity’s duty to preserve that right.

Conservation of Natural Species: Protected Ecosystems and Landscapes

The preceding justifications for nature conservation apply to all highly complex ecological systems: habitats, ecosystems, and landscapes. The protection of these ecological entities is justified overall by the same reasons as those for the preservation of biodiversity…

François Ramade

Eléments d’Ecologie : Ecologie Appliquée, (Dunod, 6th edition, Chapter 9.2, pp.680-695)

2005

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