If population growth is biology's primary indicator of "success" then homo sapiens are undoubtedly the king of the world, but at what is the cost of our meteoric evolutionary rise? We are now officially in the midst of the sixth great extinction, and if species loss continues at this rate, a future that none of us want to even think about will be upon us sooner than we think — a world where ONLY the species of animals and plants we chose and carefully cultivate will survive (along with ants and cockroaches).
Each year in the U.K., two more species vanish from existence (the number is much higher in the U.S. but comparable data is not published), each one representing millions of years of nature's wonderous craft. No, their loss doesn't directly affect us in any way that is noticeable, but as George Monbiot says in his most recent heart-wrenching blog post
, "The global collapse of biodiversity hurts almost beyond endurance. The sense that the world is greying, its wealth of colour and surprise and wonder fading, is so painful that I can scarcely bear to write about it."
He mentions the sobering fact that though the Chinese and Japanese will be hit hardest when bluefin tune becomes extinct in the next year or two, these are the two countries fighting a bluefin ban at the Doha conference on illegal species trading.
Monbiot has a curious proposition. So many of the species that end up on the IUCN "Red List
" each year have exotic latin names, which in a certain way makes them nameless. Take Cucujus cinnaberinus
, the remarkable little scarlet beetle that once thrived in northern Europe (eating dead bark), and is now threatened by extinction. One would hardly know judging by its name that it was a beetle, much less where it lives, what it does, looks or sounds like.
If it were called the Austrian scarlet beetle for example, we would at least have a visual reference, and maybe Monbiot postulates, if we had more common names for the myriad plants, insects and animal species that are vanishing before our eyes, there would be more momentum to do something about saving them:
It seems to me that one of the handicaps conservationists suffer is that few of these species have common names. It is hard to persuade people to care about something they can’t pronounce. Nature is most valued when it intersects with culture. I would love to see a body like Natural England launch a public competition to name the country’s nameless species: the micromoths and creeping mosses, the bashful beetles and unassuming mushrooms known only in Greek or Latin.
Maybe we need a worldwide Internet competition to name the thousands of critters big and small, the lives of which may depend on just a handful of conservations rallying around a species few even know existed.