By Richard Burke
Bees, monarch butterflies and west slope cutthroat trout are linked by an ominous distinction: their days in existence may be numbered.
The demise of bees is scary enough, when you consider much of our food relies on bees to pollinate plants. Microwave towers for cellphones, it is said, confuse bees' communication. As well, genetically altered plants are blamed for disrupting their nutrition needs. Neither has been proven. However, Animal Planet suggests "bees remind us that no matter how fast our technology grows, we are still intertwined with the governance of Mother Nature."
Similarly, the reason for decline of Monarch butterflies is difficult to establish, but fingers are pointed at climate change and habitat destruction. Fifteen years ago, their numbers were 18 times greater than they are today.
In Alberta, 58 species, from west slope cutthroat to swift foxes and grizzly bears, are listed as in some kind of danger. Almost always, humans can be largely blamed for their demise because of the way we have approached the species' habitats. For at least the past 100 years, we as a society have considered forests, prairies, rivers and lakes as fair game to do with as we please to meet our own needs. Until fairly recently, that approach has rarely considered the effect on any other living thing, or it was assumed the Earth's resources were limitless.
Earlier in October, Southern Albertans with varied interests, water being the common denominator, spent three days immersed in the woes of the west slope cutthroat trout, listed as threatened, in our backyard, the upper reaches of the Oldman River and its tributaries. They were seeking consensus on actions to help the cutthroat recover, using as a foundation the province's recently completed Westslope Cutthroat Recovery Plan 2012-2017. Activities in the mountains and downstream have shrunk the cutthroat population to less than 20 per cent of what it had been for around 10,000 years. Forestry, recreation and industrial development among other pursuits altered the landscape and that in turn boosted sediment in the water that smothered fish eggs. As well, man introduced other fish species such as rainbow trout that hybridized with cutthroat and weakened the strain so it is less adaptable to changes in its environment.
So, it comes down to a couple of competing points of view: does man simply use the environment for his own purposes without regard to other living things? Or does man live as an integral part of a bigger system, nature if you will.
The argument from the biblical perspective revolves around interpretations of man's dominion over the earth.
To bring it home to Catholics, Pope Jon Paul II wrote in a paper titled The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility, "The dramatic threat of ecological breakdown is teaching us the extent to which greed and selfishness--both individual and collective--are contrary to the order of creation, an order which is characterized by mutual interdependence."
He added, "Modern society will find no solution to the ecological problem unless it takes a serious look at its lifestyle."
More recently, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church was more blunt: "For humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God's creation, for humans to degrade the integrity of the Earth by causing changes in its climate, stripping the Earth of its natural forests, or destroying its wetlands . . . for humans to contaminate the Earth's waters, its land, its air, and its life with poisonous substances--these are sins."
There's little doubt, and there should be no disagreement, that we owe a duty to make sure we don't cause another species to become extinct.