THE BLOG

Extinctions and the Death of the Human Imagination

02/26/2015 01:17 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015

A catastrophe is coming. We can avert it but only by applying pressure on governments and vested interests, by fighting those who put money ahead of beauty, profit before enlightenment. We are about to lose one of the most wonderful animals on earth. It's an animal so rarely glimpsed that those who have seen it in the wild seem more glamorous than we lesser humans. This creature is found at only three small locations, and one is about to be bulldozed for a housing development. With so little habitat left, it's not clear that this animal will be able hang on if a major part of its territory is destroyed.

This is the dreadful future -- or lack of a future -- that is facing the horrid ground weaver. The "horrid what now?" you may be asking. Well, it's a tiny spider found in the south of England and may well be one of the rarest invertebrates on earth. And yet its habitat is threatened with destruction.

In the west we tend to maraud onto the moral high ground when rhinos and tigers are butchered to create magic medicines or elephant herds decimated for ivory for trinkets, however skilled the carving. And of course these awful events are reprehensible, driven by uninformed or uncaring customer demand and frequently generating huge profits through organized crime cartels. Frequently we misdirect our passionate condemnation at the people least able to control their own roles in these processes, the very poorest humans desperate to grab at any kind of a living in an economic desert. The same is true for the bushmeat trade which may prove to be the final blow that destroys the remnants of the great ape populations.

We criticize subsistence farmers in Africa who kill large predators that take their livestock, with a hypocrisy which is astounding. In the UK the government has promoted a badger cull, supposedly to combat bovine tuberculosis. Never mind that all the science showed this would have no useful effects and could actually be counter-productive. Tuberculosis in a cattle herd causes distress and economic hardship for farmers, and government is in a position to compensate for losses. But this wasn't dramatic enough. Farmers lobbied for a cull, and politicians appeased them.

It is unforgivable that in developed nations, where governments and citizens have access to education and information, we destroy our environment and its wildlife. We almost always allow it on the grounds of a pervasive and apparently unassailable imperative -- money.

Tigers, gorillas, rhinos -- they are big charismatic animals. Obviously it would be awful if they became extinct. But will the world really be any the poorer for the loss of the horrid ground weaver? I believe we and the planet are impoverished just as much if we wipe out this tiny spider as if we shoot the last snow leopard. Each represents exactly the same appalling deficit in we humans -- the death of imagination.

The horrid ground weaver exists nowhere except for a tiny patch of a small island. And I really do mean nowhere else. Across billions of stars in millions of galaxies, there is nowhere else in the universe graced by its presence. It is, like all other species, entirely unique. When it goes, we never get it back. Ever. And the worst thing is that we know that, and still we don't care.

The horrid ground weaver is the extraordinary product of billions of years of evolution, sculpted from random genetic variation and environmental shifts that will never happen in the same way again. Nothing could have predicted its existence, nothing can recreate it. It is as beautiful as van Gogh's sunflowers, or Michelangelo's David. If someone said "I don't own those pieces of art but I am going to destroy them because that will make me some money," we would not countenance that for a moment. Yet we accept the same argument without hesitation when applied to the natural world.

So please, shout out for the horrid ground weaver and all those other small creatures that we are wiping out. They matter just as much as giant pandas and perhaps more, because only when we value the tiny animals with whom we share this ridiculously complex planet will we finally deserve the imaginative capacity that we have been randomly gifted by evolution.