restricted access Conclusion: The Work of Conserving Biodiversity
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193 Conclusion The Work of Conserving Biodiversity This book offers an ethics of biodiversity developed from a Christian perspective in dialogue with scientific ecology, and its foundation is a set of data about the variety of life. These data are endlessly complex and intricate, but it is nevertheless worth trying to summarize with a few numbers: for more than three billion years, life has evolved on the planet Earth, with countless births and deaths leading to the 10 million or so distinct species on the planet today, 350,000 of which are beetles. Our own single species—which evolved less than two hundred thousand years ago—has almost 7 billion members, and each of us carries approximately 400 distinct species of microbes inside our mouths. A second set of numbers is as disturbing as the first is amazing: Today, species are going extinct at one hundred to one thousand times their natural rate because of human activity. One-quarter of mammals are currently endangered. By the year 2060, one in twenty of all currently existing species may be extinct, and uncounted populations within species and ecosystems that support them will likely be gone as well. The Brazilian rain forest, one of the most richly diverse biomes on our planet, has been cut down by 20 percent in the last twenty years. By 2050, 200 million people may well be driven from their homes because of such environmental destruction, and as many as 136 million may have already been made refugees by conservation efforts. For related but not identical reasons, fully half of the six thousand human languages currently spoken are likely to disappear in this century, one indicator of the traditional and indigenous cultures endangered by the expansion of industrialized and homogenized ways of life. This information is disturbing, and it is amazing. Above all, it is deeply important to anyone who seeks to live morally in our complicated , diverse, and troubled world. For Christians who recognize the Earth as God’s good creation and accept the responsibility to steward life on this planet as advocates for the oppressed and marginalized, these data are a call to attention and to action. An Ethics of Biodiversity has developed a particularly Christian response to these data by 194 social justice and the conservation of biodiversity reflecting on five questions that, in review, can summarize the book’s basic argument about how Christians should approach conservation. The first step for any ethics is to understand what is being studied, and so the foundational question is What is biodiversity? Biodiversity is most basically the variety of life, most technically a multiscalar subject of careful scientific study, and theologically the variety of creatures in God’s creation that manifests God’s glory. Biodiversity is a basic characteristic of the world we live in and of which we are a part, a sign of the richness and endless mystery of the creation. The variety of life can best be understood when we pay attention to it, learning from the scientists who study it, carefully observing and appreciating the myriad creatures with which we share life on Earth. Implied in these definitions are some answers to the second question : Why does biodiversity matter? Scientists, politicians, and economists have developed a long list of reasons, noting that the variety of life is valuable to human beings as the basis of ecosystem functioning, improves human well-being, and can inspire and educate. In addition many argue that biodiversity is intrinsically valuable, worthy of conservation regardless of its contribution to human flourishing. To these ideas I add a particularly Christian argument: biodiversity is valuable for its sacramentality, because it serves as a sign of and connection to the mysteries and workings of God. Christians who wish to know the creator and live as the creator intends must study creation, which is characterized by the variety of life. As a sacramental sign of God, biodiversity’s importance comes in part from its sheer complexity: it offers a sign of the mystery of creation because it does not exist in any single place, at any single scale, and it cannot be quantified in any single way. This is emphasized in the third question: How and at what level should we pay attention to biodiversity ? No single answer to this question could be adequate because life exists on multiple scales and in myriad ways, and so our moral and theological responses to it must be as multiscalar, nuanced...


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