Is Global Species Loss a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?


Photo credit: Wakx via Flickr/CC BY-SA

We've all heard about the dire straits the planet's biodiversity is in. Species are going extinct at a rate so fast that some scientists have termed the phenomenon the anthropocene extinction (they named it after the cause of their accelerated demise: us). But we know that already. We know that we're killing species off so fast that any single one of us is helpless to halt the devastation. It's common knowledge. Or is it? Has the fact that we've convinced ourselves that widespread species loss is inevitable responsible for making it so? Are we, in other words, writing out a self-fulfilling prophecy? Two prominent conservationists think so. Australian researchers Stephen T. Garnett and David B. Lindenmayer. argue exactly that in their new research paper, Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Here's Mother Jones explaining their case:

In "Conservation science must engender hope to succeed," the authors suggest that relentless communication of an impending mass extinction is failing to motivate politicians, policy makers, or the public, and is likely to be counterproductive: "Researchers need to provide the science not only for the campaigns lamenting environmental loss, but also, most importantly, for those celebrating the effectiveness of conservation."
Sound familiar? We often hear the case that getting too doom-and-gloomy about climate change turns folks off to wanting to do anything about that problem, too. But, there is a valid point in the argument -- if governments are going to continue to devote time and resources to conservation, they need to believe that both are being well spent. If nations feel like they can make or have made a difference, they'll be more willing to step up their efforts.

This sort of argument does walk a fine line, however (and it's oh so similar to the one dividing global warming frankness and too-doominess). If we are indeed losing species at a terrifying rate (and the best science says that we are), simply pointing to the handful of conservation successes and embracing optimism doesn't make the anthropocene extinction any less real.

But I applaud the conservationists' efforts, and their general message is an important one: We can prevent large scale disaster if we get are acts together. Problem is, we're nowhere near doing so right now.

More on Global Species Loss
Humans Now Wiping Out Species at 1000 Times the Natural Rate
Academics Call for Global Action on Species Loss
Which 10 Countries Have the Most Endangered Species ?

Tags: Animals | Conservation | Endangered Species

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