Why Saving Species Matters
Adapted from Stewart Elgie's "Briefing Notes on the Species at Risk Act" (2002).
Obviously, there is some debate regarding the relative importance of the reasons listed below.
- Protecting endangered species
protects us: Wild species clean the air and water, renourish the
soil, and maintain the planet's ecological processes which support human
life. Loss of species have unknown effects on the ecosystems they inhabit.
Loss of too many species may result in ecosystem collapse.
- Ecological indicators: Endangered
species are like canaries in a coal mine. When a species becomes endangered it is a visible
warning that the ecological system it inhabits is also in danger (and
that more species may be lost unless we take action). For instance, when
beluga whales wash up dead on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, and
must be disposed of as hazardous waste,
it is a clear sign that toxic pollution is damaging the Great
Lakes-St. Lawrence River system.
- A living laboratory: Loss of endangered species may lead to the loss of life saving drugs. Over
40% of our medicines come from wild species, including many cancer-fighting
drugs. For example, the drug taxol, now one of the leading treatments
for ovarian cancer, was recently discovered in Canada's pacific yew
tree. Similarly, the drug used to treat Leukemia and Hodgkin's disease
was discovered by Canadian scientists in the Rosy Periwinkle, a rare
plant from Madagascar. Even Aspirin comes from the willow tree.
Loss of endangered species may lead to the loss of life saving drugs.
- National identity: Wild
species are an integral part of our national identity; they adorn our
flags, our artwork, and our currency. They act as symbols of our nation.
- Economics: Protecting endangered
species makes good sense ecologically, but also economically. According
to a Statistics Canada Report (The Importance of Wildlife to Canadians),
Canadians spend $9 billion a year in wildlife-related activities (such
as birdwatching, fishing, or visits to natural areas), generating $5
billion in tax revenue and over 200,000 direct jobs. The livelihoods
of many Canadians depend on maintaining our diversity of wild species.
- Global duty: With its vast
lands, rich array of wildlife and comparative wealth, Canada has a unique
opportunity and duty to be a world leader in conserving species and
spaces. If Canada cannot effectively protect its endangered species how
can we expect developing nations to do so?
- Sustainable development:
The major challenge facing modern society is to learn to live
sustainably. We must learn to meet our needs in ways that leave behind
a healthy planet for future generations. One of the most basic requirements
of sustainable development is to be able to meet our needs without wiping
out other forms of life. We must meet this basic challenge--of protecting
our endangered species--before we can hope to address even more difficult
challenges (such as climate change).
- Ethical reasons: Many people believe that all species have an inherent right to exist and that it is morally wrong for humans to exterminate other species that have occupied the planet for tens of thousands of years.