Worldwatch, Lester R. Brown's nonprofit research...

salmagundi

May 14, 1992

Worldwatch, Lester R. Brown's nonprofit research organization dedicated to saving the Earth from its two-legged inhabitants, puts out monthly "papers," each devoted to one ecological or demographic problem. They're always good for a cry.

The April paper, for example, is titled "Life Support: Conserving Biological Diversity." It notes that scientists have identified 1.4 million "life forms," but that the total number of living things sharing the Earth with us humans is probably closer to 10 million -- and could be as high as 80 million.

The majority are small animals, such as insects and mollusks living in little-explored environments like the ocean floor.

But, and here's the sad part, biological diversity, according to the report, "is collapsing at rates that can only be described as mind-boggling. Difficult as it is to accept, mass extinction has already begun, and the world is irrevocably committed to many further losses." Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson estimates that in tropical rain forests alone, roughly 50,000 species per year -- nearly 140 each day -- are either extinguished or condemned to eventual extinction by the destruction of their habitat.

Extinction, of course, isn't new; indeed, it is the eventual fate of all species. But, Worldwatch says, the activities of one species -- and we know what species that is -- are multiplying the Earth's extinction rate several thousand times, "causing an impoverishment of life unmatched since the decline of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago."

Biological diversity can only be sustained, Worldwatch says, by overhauling humanity's relationship to nature. And it says such an overhaul "will only be possible with an overhaul of the relationship among people themselves."

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