Mike Ko Personal Portfolio


Home-School Education
Hong Kong

University of Durham
Bachelor of Science
United Kingdom

2017 - 2018
United Kingdom

Writing - Commentary

The Future of Life




                        The life on Earth is in danger, and we must act now to save it. That was the main message that the author sought to pass to the world.

                        The Future of Life alerts us to the dire situation that many life forms on Earth now face, to the fact that humanity plays a key role in determining their future, and that action must be taken now to save them or all will be lost (not just for them, but for us as well). We are presented with a case for conservation: Why we urgently need to save and preserve life, and what we should do to achieve that.

Endangering Wildlife

                        The first half of the book in general describes briefly the magnificent diversity of life that (still) exists on the planet, showing various species from different habitats and pointing out that there are still a lot of undiscovered ones. But then we are shown the predicament that countless species faces today: a survival bottleneck – caused by a change in the biosphere due to human expansion – which all species will have to go through.

                        Then the role that humans have played in disrupting the normal patterns of various ecosystems is illustrated, with abundant examples to be found in our history (notable ones include our migrations to Hawaii and Australia). As we expand and exploit natural resources unsustainably, we crowd out more and more species in the wild. But as we are doing so, we may also be putting ourselves into an unenviable situation.

                        When a species in an ecosystem disappears, it disrupts the equilibrium of that ecosystem, and it will have to adapt accordingly. If enough disruptions occur, it may result in changes to climate patterns, the environment, and natural resources that may be undesirable to humanity. Unfortunately, society does not seem to have these eventual, long-run consequences in mind when we destroy habitats or drive out other species, seemingly focused on more short-run goals.

Why Preserve Wildlife Diversity?

                        In the second half of the book, the author starts to give the reasons for saving nature by answering the implicit question: Why should we save wildlife diversity? It is mainly because nature has an immense value to humanity. It provides society with many services that society take for granted, and all of which would be costly to replicate artificially.

                        In addition, we also take a lot of our resources from a diverse pool of species, like food, wood, and medicine. If we drain nature's resources and destroy its environments unsustainably, then wildlife diversity will diminish, and we get a less diverse pool of resources for us.

                        Furthermore, ecosystems with diverse wildlife theoretically should allow it to recover from eco-disasters more quickly than homogenous ones, resulting in relatively stable ecosystems, which presumably is beneficial to human society.

                        The author also mentioned ‘biophilia‘- an instinctive behavior that leaves us with a constant interest in other kinds of life - as a reason to maintain the diversity of wildlife.  While stating that we have an instinctive affinity for nature by behavior is not unreasonable to me, the actual mechanisms of this instinct have yet to be revealed, and as such can only complement the other reasons for supporting conservation.

                        A moral responsibility to maintain the rest of life on the planet was brought up as well, although the reasons presented here are more or less cultural ones. Although not insignificant, I believe that our consideration of conservation should mostly be based on the relatively practical arguments mentioned above.

                        All of these reasons taken together are why we should start conserving what is left and use natural resources sustainably, so as to ensure that we will continue to have such resources in the future, as well as a stable environment.

                        After the case for conservation has been made, we are shown that there’s still hope that we are in time to start saving life's diversity, and that limited efforts are already underway, mostly by NGOs. However, in the end it should be governments who should take up the main responsibility of conservational efforts. The author also suggested some basic goals that conservational efforts should achieve. These include the need to establish a link between economic incentives and wildlife protection, to maintain various habitats – particularly forests and marine environments, and also to increase our knowledge of life, including species which have yet to be discovered.

Conservation Sidelined

                        Arguing for conservation is nothing new, but the arguments that the book provides are quite convincing. One can find very little flaw in the author’s arguments for conservation; I for one agree with most of them. However, arguing for conservation is one thing; actually implementing it into our lives is another.

                        Even though the realization of the need for conservation is widespread in many countries, I think it is unlikely that the messages of the book – or any conventional means of advocating conservation - will create any particular impact on implementing it into our social priorities. Even when we know, whether consciously or not, that our current practices are impractical in the long-run, society still does not seem to be ready or willing to act upon the messages that conservationists and green revolutionists have pointed out. Society will continue to run on its typical rhythm, draining the Earth’s resources to fuel economic growth, and we will continue to set our sights on short-run goals.

                        The main reason for this reluctance, in my view, is because the current priorities of society mostly focus on economic growth. National policies of various countries are usually judged by their economic impact first, with other concerns like environmental issues being either sidelined or ignored completely.

                        However, we can no longer afford to maintain with our current practice of unsustainable exploitation of nature's limited resources. If we do, ecosystem disruptions and resource scarcity will lead to changes in the biosphere, the climate, and our way of living in the not-too-far future, most likely for the worse. Therefore, we must quickly take into account the impact of our activities on wildlife and the environment when determining the course of action of a whole country to even the whole of human society.

The Bigger Problem: Unsustainable Resource Usage

                        Yet while conservation is no doubt important in resolving our current crises, it only remedies the symptom of a larger problem. The goal of conservation is to preserve wildlife in order to maintain a stable biosphere and climate, sufficient supplies of resources for the future, and all the other reasons listed above. However, no amount of conservation can save us and our environment if we continue to drain the resources of the planet unsustainably. As such, I think it is more important for society in the long-run to rethink its conventional wisdom on the meanings behind the concepts of a good standard of living, an ideal society, and how we should use nature's resources. A purely materialistic goal for society is not feasible when we live on a planet with limited resources, and sooner or later society must learn to let go of and replace these previous values with more sustainable ones. And the more quickly we do so, the better.

                        Human society now faces a crisis, an impending one that most of us still cannot - or refuse to - envision at the moment. We are still under the illusion that our current way of living can be maintained, that the Earth still has enough resources for us. But by now, it should be strikingly obvious that this is purely wishful thinking. If we don’t change our present models of social development soon, not only would the whole of wildlife on the planet be endangered; we will be included on that list as well. So by initiating conservation and other ‘green’ efforts, we are not only saving the future of the rest of life or to maintain future supplies of resources. We are simultaneously saving ourselves.

                                                                                                                                                                  Mike Ko
                                                                                                                                                                  ( 1,319 words )


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