Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Great Conceit

In this wonderful and expert article on bird migration [City Newspaper “A bird in the hand” 9/30/09], something hauntingly familiar struck me from the section: “Why protect birds?” Birds have a right to live; birding helps our economy because birders buy binoculars; birds are an early-warning system, etc. I’ve come across this apparent need for reporters and scientists to justify the need for other species in many articles on our environment: why we need biodiversity (lots of different species), why we need wolves, why bears, whales, or those darn mosquitoes, whatever. Basically, I guess, the assumption is why the rest of us who are driving around in our hot new clunkers, making a living, or watching the latest ‘reality’ on TV, and doing just fine should care about birds, which may not be our ‘thing.’

Here’s what strikes me: To pose such a question in the media at all reveals a great human conceit that humankind should relieve itself of. Feeling compelled to prove the existence of birds is like having to explain the existence of the third floor in a high-rise. Answer: You don’t get to live on any of the above floors if there is no third floor. Birds and other species don’t simply exist at our pleasure; they and our environment are One. Birds are so woven into the fabric of our present environment as to cause serious structural damage if they were somehow removed.

This great conceit that we humans can casually sit back and calculate and consider the worth of the other biological components on this planet is sheer irresponsible lunacy. We forget ourselves, what we learned in biology, and who we are. The media and the public should take responsibility for informing themselves on how this planet operates (because we are at the helm as never before) so we don’t have to keep explaining why other creatures are valuable. That birds are important is an absolute no-brainer. Our culture should have advanced to the point where implicit in every article on other species is that they are not at the mercy of our false belief in the preeminence of our economy.

I’ll unpack that last point. Our economy doesn’t rule, Nature does. Denying the critical role of birds would be like the crew on a space ship suddenly seized with the fancy that it didn’t need air and began jack hammering the oxygen tanks. Birds are not only really neat, our environment will be different when they are gone—and you probably won’t like the results.

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