Posted on December 3, 2020 by Krista McIntyre
An opinion in this week’s Los Angeles Times, One of American’s great wildernesses is being destroyed, bit by bit, in a silent massacre (Ben Raines, November 29, 2020), (https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-11-29/mobile-river-biodiversity-extinctions-alabama) got me thinking about one of my re-reads this year, E.O. Wilson’s The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2006). The LA Times’ op-ed highlighted one of the richest ecosystems in the world, measured by number of species and types of habitat, the Mobile River Basin in Alabama. This wilderness is rich with more species of oak, crawfish, turtle, mussels, and freshwater fish than any other river delta system in the world. E.O Wilson explored and experienced this “stronghold of biodiversity” during his formative teenage years. His work on biodiversity, conservation, entomology, and all-things-Nature is prolific and iconic.
In The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, Wilson petitions his counterpart, a Southern Baptist pastor, to join forces for the sake of the planet’s imperiled biodiversity. A secular humanist, a scientist, seeking counsel and help from a “literal interpreter of scripture.” An odd couple, for sure. E.O. Wilson selectively references religion and science, creation and evolution, to forge common purpose with his Pastor-friend. “Dear Pastor, what I fear most is a pervasive combination of religious and secular ideology of a kind that sees little or no harm in the destruction of the Creation.” With the sixth extinction underway, the “human hammer” — not God’s will — is to blame for the permanent losses Earth experiences, Wilson urges. He warns that to act as if “extinction is natural” — recurring over billions of years without harm to the biosphere — misses the spiritual and scientific points. “However biodiversity arose, it was not put on this planet to be erased by one species.” Whether by creation or evolution, this “beautifully balanced” and functioning biosphere pre-dated humans. We are latecomers, he says. And we are accelerants of the destruction.
E.O. Wilson’s experiences in Nature span the Earth. His examples of biodiversity in The Creation include the North American wolverine, the Venezuelan pitchfork ant, and cichlid fish in Africa’s Lake Victoria. But his scientific journey began in Alabama, in the Mobile River Basin, with a Boy Scout project studying fire ants. Now this unique American ecosystem is at risk. In his LA Times’ op-ed, Ben Raines describes the perilous impacts to the Mobile River Basin; impacts that track the factors outlined by E.O. Wilson in The Creation that contribute to global biodiversity loss: habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, population, and overharvesting. The rate of aquatic and terrestrial species extinction, Raines notes, is roughly double that seen anywhere else in the continental United States. And, according to the piece, Alabama ranks last in the nation in spending to protect the environment.
As pled in The Creation, what advice might E.O. Wilson offer Ben Raines to preserve and protect this special area of Alabama? Build alliances with unlikely allies. Meet on common ground. Teach scientific method. Nurture exploration and curiosity of Nature in children. Believe in Nature’s proven powers to heal, to support life, to endure before and after humans. Reach across disciplines and predispositions to summon stewardship of the biodiversity that nourishes human spiritual and scientific life. And don’t delay.