What on Earth?
Surely there is no thought or image more indicative of what it means to be human than that of gazing into the night sky and wondering: what is out there?
Walk into any temple of any culture across the world, past or present, and you will find messages giving you possible answers. Open any science book of any age and there will be theories as to what we see when we look out from our island falling through space. In attempting to sate our desire for answers we have sent machines billions of miles into space and created telescopes of extraordinary power, we have mapped the entire visible universe and sent humans to stand on Earth’s moon. In these thousands upon thousands of years of thought and exploration we have seen the incredible, we have seen planets made of gas and the birth of stars, the eruption of extra-terrestrial volcanoes and the frozen faces of ancient asteroids but there is one marvel that we have never seen anywhere but here at home and that is the marvel of Life.
Despite all our searching it seems that at least for now we must consider planet Earth alone in being host to Life, a totally isolated speck in the vast coldness of space. I for one think that puts us in an incredibly special but also precarious position. It means that every loss in biodiversity on this planet represents a fundamental loss in how alive our universe or at least our part of the universe is. It means there are no substitutions and no second chances, we can’t import life from elsewhere, nor can we move to another Earth.
This outlook may sound bleak and whilst this does give us a great responsibility to maintain the enormous variety of Life we see about us surely it also gives us great cause for celebration. For if each species we study or discover is completely and totally unique, a true one off, it means that nowhere else can you find such a bizarre amphibian as a duck-billed platypus nor as unusual a neck as that of a giraffe. Even the most seemingly common animal such as a black bird or snail is a true marvel of chance and evolution that is individual to Earth. We are living at an oasis of life in the desert vacuum of space; surely it is worth our time to occasionally look about us and enjoy the inhabitants we share our small bubble of life with?
I believe our success as conservationists comes when we use this information not in a negative way to try and scare the public into action but as a positive means of engaging people’s curiosity and passion in the nature around them. Though each extinction is a permanent loss and we undoubtedly have a duty to make people aware of this, perhaps we occasionally drift too far towards painting a bleak picture of why we think nature is worth conserving? If you are reading this it means you are most likely already a conservationist and if so I ask you to look back and remember which came first: your love of nature or your passion for protecting it? Personally I can’t imagine how it is possible to want to protect something that you have not already decided is something worth protecting. That is why I believe that we as conservationists should always remember to spread our passion for nature to the public because as we awake people’s inbuilt love of the natural world their want to guard and protect it must surely follow.
Watch the Earth live from the International Space Station here: