The U.N. Report on Extinction vs. Mike Pompeo at the Arctic Council

It’s rare that you get to see, in sharp focus, opposite world views fighting for the planet’s future at the same time, but it happened on Monday. First came the summary findings of a fifteen-hundred-page United Nations report on biodiversity—that is, on everything that isn’t us. And it was as depressing a document as humans have ever produced. We find ourselves, the scientists who wrote it said, in the early days of an auto-da-fé that is consuming a staggering percentage of creation. Humans have destroyed many of the habitats on which the rest of nature depends and caused the temperature of the earth to rise; as a result, “around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken.” The report serves as a kind of pre-obituary for all of the creatures now on the way out—the current global rate of extinction is estimated as “already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.”

 One would think that would be reason enough for us to act. The idea that a million chains of being could be snapped in our short time on Earth should, perhaps, hit us with at least the emotional force of the fire in the eaves of Notre-Dame. But the researchers who produced the U.N. report are (sensibly) unwilling to stake the fight on our morality; they appeal primarily to the self-interest of the one species in control, providing reminders that a diverse natural world makes our lives possible. From the pollinators and the organic matter in soil that helps crops grow to the mangrove swamps that shield us from storms, “nature’s contributions to people are vital for human existence,” the authors write, and these resources are being depleted. Read More