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📙 Sparing Nature: The Conflict between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity by Jeffrey K. McKee — free download


"And without trees for shade, it would be pretty darned hot on this planet." No, that is not a quote from the late Mister Rogers; welcome to Mister McKee's neighborhood. Shunning traditional bar charts, McKee, begins his book by comparing relative quantities of biodiversity found in his neighborhood to a nearby nature park using contrasting silhouettes of a squirrel, a tree, a bird, and...you guessed it, a bee. The point: biodiversity decreases as human numbers increase. At first, it was unsettling to me that a book about biodiversity loss was being written by a guy who didn't know a termite when he saw one and as soon as it was identified for him, he immediately called the exterminator-it having been found in his yard. However, this is not a book about sustainable lifestyles, it is about overpopulation and its effect on biodiversity. You might not have guessed it, judging from my excessively critical remarks, but this book is a good read. McKee proves to be a gentle and persuasive writer. I gleaned several pearls from Sparing Nature. I learned that Ohio once harbored a wetland the size of Connecticut called the "Black Swamp." It was drained before the turn of the century. We are told that McKee's brother-a botanist-had located one of the last remaining bogs in Ohio, and in the name of conservation, the McKee family had chipped in to buy it McKee talked about the loopholes in laws that allow developers to drain and fill wetlands as long as they create new ones someplace else. His point, "One simply cannot transplant an ecosystem." In terms of biodiversity, the artificial wetlands bear little resemblance to the ones that were destroyed. These laws are trading ancient wetlands for duck ponds. Extinction of a complex ecosystem is analogous to the extinction of a life form and just as permanent. Rush Limbaugh-not generally known for his intellectual acuity-is mentioned along with his propensity to confuse population density with overpopulation. Apparently, Limbaugh uses the fact that every person on Earth could fit into the state of Texas as proof that overpopulation is a myth propagated by environmentalist wackos. McKee makes a stronger than usual argument that humankind was responsible for the extinction of the large mammals that once roamed Europe, Australia, and the Americas. Those animals had survived multiple global warming trends. The only thing new with the last warming trend was a human population expansion of hunters with Clovis tipped spears. These creatures were surviving in shrunken habitats when man came along and administered a lethal blow. He reinforces this argument by noting that large animals are the first to be driven to extinction when humans colonize islands. Creatures without effective defense mechanisms against humans are history, literally. He defines a keystone species and suggests that because of their extinction, many other life forms that depended on them were also driven to extinction. Although not mentioned in the book, the California condor comes to my mind. They evolved to feed on the carcasses of large mammals. They were hanging in there along with their keystone species the bison. The end of the bison herds doomed these birds. The fact that we have, over the course of thirty years and after having spent millions of dollars, managed to multiply the last twelve condors into a few hundred is largely irrelevant. Without human intervention-feeding, monitoring, and protection-the California condor would go extinct within a few years because the world they evolved to live in is gone. McKee ties into this concept the fact that the extinction of a species lags behind the eradication of its environment. This implies that the extinction of many species is already in the pipeline. Our zoos are filling with animals that are or will soon be extinct in the wild because their habitats are gone. The next climatic shift will be the final straw for thousands of species that have survived humankind's onslaught because they have no place to weather the change. McKee considers the plight of orangutans. If a change in rain patterns causes their remaining habitat to dry out there will not be remnant populations surviving in pockets of wet jungles waiting to repopulate. There are people in those places now, billions, and billions of them. Sparing Nature is unique in that it bypasses the usual debates about the causes of hunger, war, and poverty, and instead, focuses on the devastation being wrought on biodiversity, the cause of which is undeniable. There is something fundamentally wrong with today's contraceptive technologies when you consider that even here in the US over half of all pregnancies are unplanned. This statistic strongly suggests room for improvement. Halting our growth at something like 7.5 billion instead of 9.5 would prove critical to preventing the extinction of many thousands of species. Although fertility rates are falling, world population is still growing rapidly. This falling fertility rate reinforces all of our hopes that when our growth finally does stop-as the laws of physics say it must-it will be the result of low birth rates instead of high death rates. At that point, the struggle to slow our growth will be won and will then be replaced by the struggle to allow our numbers to decline. While humanity will continue to fight over this and millions of other issues, quietly, in the background, the remnants of our planet's biodiversity will continue the struggle for existence. Russ Finley, Author of "Poison Darts-Protecting the biodiversity of our world."

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