This post is part of the series Eleanor on the Environment.
Humans have only existed for a fraction of the amount of time that organisms have inhabited this planet. Living cells have been around for 3.5 billion years, humans can only count for about two million of those years. In the meantime life has had time to change in astounding ways. Evolution brought us from single celled organisms, to gigantic mammoths. It’s taken 3.5 billion years to create a world with an estimated 8.7 million species. This number doesn’t account for the many species who have become extinct. The power of biodiversity is incredible. It allows the planet to mold its ecosystems into an elaborate work of art that connects the mushrooms to the tigers. The relationships that connect us to the environment are incredibly strong and integral to the survival of the planet.
Biodiversity is, by definition, the variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem. But how did a bundle of atoms become 8.7 million species? It started with the water molecule. From molecules being formed and twisted together life finally emerges in the form of a simple single celled organism. The earth for a long time was ruled by single celled organisms until one engulfed another and the first eukaryotic cell was made. These cells with internal organs then formed colonies and the first multicellular organisms came to life. Sea plants came next, then there was an explosion of all sorts of species. After centuries monkeys found their way to becoming humans and that’s when our story starts. This is important to understand because it proves how little humans know about the world before us. Our environment today has been carved out of years of practice, and it is our responsibility to preserve it.
As was illustrated in the Disney movie The Lion King, the circle of life is essential to every living organism. This circle starts from the solar energy received from the sun. The law of conservation of energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. This means that the energy given from the sun is then transferred to light energy, thermal energy, kinetic energy, chemical energy, and so much more. Organisms need this resource in order to sustain their way of living.
One of the most important systems is photosynthesis that takes the energy from the sun and turns it into the air that we breathe. Without the sun this reaction would not be able to take place. Another important law that continues the circle of life is the law of conservation of matter. No atom can be created or destroyed. This means that the same atoms that once were the bones of a dinosaur have now been incorporated into another substance that could have been in your milk this morning. All living organisms will eventually decompose and become part of the soil. The things that make you you will eventually become part of something else and it is because of this concept that ecosystems have been able to advance, so tremendously, into what they are today. Our role in the environment should not be domination. Eons of growth has brought the planet to what it is today, and in a fraction of this time, humans are tearing it all apart. Now we must notice this and choose to fight the path of destruction that history has put us on.
By understanding the systems in place that continue to balance out the forever changing climate it is easier to find hope in this climate crisis. Because the world has been around for so long, it has learned to adapt to all kinds of hardships. In Yellowstone we see that the reintroduction of wolves to the ecosystem has such a great impact that it physically healed the eroded rivers and gave them a more fixed path. This shows how even one species can create enormous change in their environment. If we use our resources to create a positive impact on our ecosystem, who knows the power that we could possess. Understanding these concepts is integral to being able to understand climate change. From this understanding humans can grasp a new perspective in their role on this planet. It is not to conquer, but to live with the other species, and even rehabilitate them from the harm that we have done.
The wolves of Yellowstone National Forest
Miller, G. Tyler, and Scott Spoolman. Living in the Environment: Principles, Connections, and Solutions. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2015.
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