It may be tempting to lump this week’s “tiger summit” in St. Petersburg, Russia, in one’s mind with a global-warming convention or an Al Gore movie premiere. But the “tiger summit,” despite its slightly silly name, deserves better. The summit serves to highlight some deeply disturbing facts that will require dedicated action to reverse.
According to the AP, the “World Wildlife Fund and other experts say only about 3,200 tigers remain in the wild, a dramatic plunge from an estimated 100,000 a century ago.” According to wildlife experts, “tigers could become extinct in 12 years if countries where they still roam fail to take quick action to protect their habitats and step up the fight against poaching.”
To attempt to undertake such action, the tiger summit is seeking to raise $350 million to implement the first five years of the Global Tiger Recovery Program’s 12-year plan to try to double the tiger population in the wild.
Okay, I know what some of you are thinking, but issues of conservation should not be the exclusive domain of the political left. “Conservative” and “conservation” come from the same root, and, whatever their high-minded ideals, it’s not generally the liberals who dedicate themselves to preserving, protecting, and nurturing that which is worthwhile in the world. Moreover, there is no bigger, more legitimate issue of conservation than the pending extinction — at least in the wild — of many of the earth’s greatest animals.
In a recent op-ed titled “The Earth Doesn’t Care” (subtitled “About what is done to or for it”), George Will summarizes the views of Robert B. Laughlin, co-winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics. Characterizing Laughlin’s arguments, Will writes: “What humans do to, and ostensibly for, the earth does not matter in the long run, and the long run is what matters to the earth. We must … think about the earth’s past in terms of geologic time.”
The upshot of Will’s piece is that the earth is remarkably durable; that it often endures natural changes of far greater significance than any effects caused by the automobile or the air conditioner. Will writes, “Damaging this old earth is, Laughlin says, ‘easier to imagine than it is to accomplish.’ There have been mass volcanic explosions, meteor impacts, ‘and all manner of other abuses greater than anything people could inflict, and it’s still here. It’s a survivor.’”
But there is one exception: “Laughlin believes that humans can ‘do damage persisting for geologic time’ by ‘biodiversity loss’ — extinctions that are, unlike carbon dioxide excesses, permanent. The earth did not reverse the extinction of the dinosaurs.”
With that in mind, we ought to talk a lot less about the “need” to reverse global warming or to stop sensible oil-drilling in the vast open expanses of Alaska, and a lot more about a key way in which our actions — or our collective inaction — truly can change the natural world for the worse.