To quote from Wikipedia: “In biology, extinction is the termination of an organism
or of a group of organisms, normally a species.” The article goes on to say that
more than 99% of all species, amounting to over five billion species, that ever lived
on Earth are estimated to be extinct.
A recent report in the British press quoted a lady, a cycling instructor and writer
from Bath, as saying “I’m not having children because I want to save the planet.”
Some questions: I’m not sure what real difference will be made to the environment
by this particular lady not having children, but isn’t she really saying she wants
to save the planet for humanity? By all means let’s do what we can for our species,
if it’s within our power, but should we be talking about saving the planet? The environment
may change – perhaps as a result of abuse and meddling by humans – but won’t the
planet carry on, with or without human life? Will all life cease to exist if greenhouse
gases increase? After all, there are organisms that can flourish in superheated deep
ocean vents, and many extremophile organisms that can adapt to live in just about
any environment. Doesn’t this suggest that whatever happens to the planet in the
future, life will go on in some form, even if there are no humans left? If it becomes
too extreme to support human life, won’t other, better adapted species take over
in their turn? They may not be intelligent, and they may be something we cannot conceive,
but won’t life go on being there long after we have gone?
The planet has existed for 4.5 billion years. That’s 4,500,000,000 years. Life itself
emerged about 4 billion years ago, presumably in circumstances a lot less welcoming
than now. Modern man has only existed for perhaps 200,000 years, about 0.005% of
the planet’s total, equivalent to 0.16 seconds in an hour. Previous species - like
the dinosaurs, which existed for about 170 million years - have become extinct through
dramatic environmental change. Why shouldn’t mankind become just another extinction?
What automatic right does mankind have to exist?