Live Long and Prosper

(Photograph Courtesy of Frances M Roberts/Alamy)

The longer human beings live, the more endangered species die. When Mr. Spock implored his fellow human companions to “live long and prosper,” he did not mean at the expense of the environment and the planet’s endangered species.

According to a new study by the University of California, Davis, longer human life expectancies basically mean death sentences for endangered birds and mammals while invasive species have a field day. Essentially, the human population acts as one gigantic parasite that feeds off the life source of any and every other species.

Researchers analyzed a combination of 15 social and ecological variables, but found that human life expectancy appeared as the primary predictor of global invasions and extinctions. Exactly just how bad is it? Based on the study of 100 different countries, the United States ranks third in both the highest percentages of endangered and invasive bird species.

It should come as no surprise that the average life expectancy of Americans has increased roughly 30 years since the 1900s, from an average of 47.3 years in 1900 to 78.1 years in 2008 according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alarmingly, lead author Aaron Lotz claims that changes in biodiversity because of human actions have been more profound in the last 50 years than in the whole prior recorded history! The whole of prior recorded history.

In fact, “biodiversity had been increasing for the past 600 million years until very recently.” The human race is truly amazing. In the span of 50 years, we have successfully reversed the efforts of 600 million years of progress. Good job, civilization.

So what can we do about this present crisis? Well, we can’t exactly ask our Hummer driving, non-recycling neighbor to stop living because his ecological footprint is getting bigger with every passing second.

However, we can start by targeting some of the other social-ecological factors mentioned in the study. For example, pesticide use has led to declines in birds, amphibians, and pollination systems, but we can enact pesticide regulations to control human-caused mortality of endangered species.

Besides putting less poison into the environment, we should also encourage female participation in national government.

Why? Because women tend to be more concerned about the pain and suffering of animals as well as more opposed to hunting and trapping. In addition, they are more involved in humane societies and animal-welfare organizations. When it comes to championing the conservation movement, women are just more in tune with nature than men.

Although we might not be able to convince the government that a longer human life expectancy is a bad thing, we can most certainly advocate for stricter pesticide regulations and women in governmental office.

Mr. Lotz agrees wholeheartedly with the idea of taking action after awareness has been raised about the current social-ecological emergency. “Some studies have this view that there’s wildlife and then there’s us. But we’re part of the ecosystem. We need to start relating humans to the environment in our research and not leave them out of the equation,” says Lotz. “We need to realize we have a direct link to nature.”

Like fine china, this direct link to nature is extremely fragile and needs to be handled with caution. However, if we strengthen this link and develop a sustainable relationship with nature, we may eventually reach a day in which both humans and endangered species alike can live long and prosper.

1. Lotz, A., and C. R. Allen. 2013. Social-ecological predictors of global invasions and extinctions. Ecology and Society 18(3): 15.
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