Do we need pandas?
Author: Ken Thompson
Pub: Green Books
At time of writing, government delegates are meeting in Japan, trying to hammer out a global deal on biodiversity in a summit that is depressingly reminiscent of Copenhagen. So, it was a good time to pick up Thompson’s book and find out if we really do need pandas and how we ought to protect them.
Though the book states the panda’s extinction ‘would be a profound failure of our stewardship of the natural world, and would deliver another small blow to the self-respect and humanity of all of us’, it does suggest that the world could carry on just fine without the panda. After all, other iconic species have gone the way of the dodo and the world has kept on turning.
Trouble is, it’s not just the panda under threat: we’re on the brink of earth’s third mass extinction (the last of which took five million years to recover from) and some of the species that could disappear in such a catastrophe are, inevitably, needed by humans, other species and the earth itself.
So, what’s to be done? Thompson says the key to protecting all life forms on earth (or at least giving them a fighting chance) is to focus on preserving the ‘relatively few common species that make the world go round’, that form the backbone of ecosystems and allow rarer species like the panda to survive. Unfortunately, most conservation efforts focus on preserving the relatively few charismatic species that face immediate threats of extinction and not on protecting the ecosystems that all species contribute to and depend upon.
I’m not a scientific expert (and those that are seem unable to agree on anything), but I could see the well-reasoned logic of Thompson’s argument. And, if all those delegates in Nagoya (who are so keen to protect national purses) could read this and note that just US$5 billion could solve the most urgent conservation problems, they might just be won over, too.