So much of the damage we've done to the planet hasn't been deliberate destructiveness; it's been due to our carelessly stomping about the place. We've long had the attitude that resources will never run out, that we can get away with doing whatever we want with no consequences, that nature will rebound like it always does. There's little awareness of the absolute fragility of it all.
The "bull in a china shop" metaphor seems all too apt.
Of course, that mindset does require a good dollop of willful ignorance. Just two weeks ago, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service declared that 22 species in the US that were previously classified as critically endangered are now officially considered extinct. The most famous of them is the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the largest woodpecker species native to North America, victim to habitat loss as the wetland forests where it lived were drained, the trees felled for lumber. A full nine of the 22 are bird species endemic to Hawaii, eight of them part of the unique group called Hawaiian honeycreepers that were decimated by the double whammy of habitat loss and susceptibility to avian malaria, carried by the introduced Asian tiger mosquito.
So to think "everything's just fine" you have to make a practice of not paying attention.
One of the problems is that in some of the most vulnerable places in the world, species are disappearing before they're even identified and studied. Take, for example, the species of tree native to the Amazon basin of Peru that was first seen by scientists in 1973 -- and that has just now been classified and named.Robin Foster of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute was the one who noticed it, while walking in Manu National Park -- and despite a thorough knowledge of Amazonian flora, he couldn't figure out what it was. "When I first saw this little tree, while out on a forest trail leading from the field station, it was the fruit -- looking like an orange-colored Chinese lantern and juicy when ripe with several seeds -- that caught my attention," Foster said. "I didn't really think it was special, except for the fact that it had characteristics of plants in several different plant families, and didn't fall neatly into any family. Usually I can tell the family by a quick glance, but damned if I could place this one."