(’13)How important is it to save plant and animal species which are in danger of extinction?


(Introduction) We could now well be facing the world’s sixth mass extinction of plants and animals, and the worst loss of species, since the dinosaurs died off 65 million years ago. Research by Stuart Pimm, a biologist at Duke University, put a number on how fast species are now becoming extinct. His study, published in the journal Science, suggested that while one species, on average, went extinct per every 10 million each year before humans came onto the scene, that number has soared to between 100 and 1,000 species today. In this light, human efforts to save our endangered species today have much increased, but, really, how much of this effort is of concrete importance, relative to the amount of effort and resources put into it? 

(Refute 1) Some say that it is not important to save the species in danger of extinction, because it is only an economic and resource drain without any foreseeable benefits/paybacks. For example, The Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP), which aims to save tigers from becoming extinct in the wild and double the wild tiger populations, estimates between $100-200 million will be spent per year for the next 10 years to save tigers. And that is just to save one species from extinction (in the wild). And there are thousands of endangered species to be saved. In 2010, the cost of managing tiger reserves alone cost at least $82 million, according to the Economist. To reduce the threat of extinction for endangered species all over the world, almost $5 billion could be spent on this area every year with an additional $76 billion to both establish and maintain protected areas for threatened wildlife. These figures are from a just-published study in the journal Science and underscore the extent of funding needed to preserve biodiversity around the world. 

(Supporting 1- Economic benefits, counter eco. drain) However, I beg to differ. The global value of ecosystems (which depend on biodiversity) is estimated at $124 trillion per year. An estimated 40% of world trade is based on biological products or processes. Up to 50% of the global $640 billion a year pharmaceutical industry depends on natural resources.  Furthermore, this economic value of biodiversity is particularly important for certain countries. For instance, Australia’s tourism accounts for around 8% of the GDP, and is growing at a rate of 5% per year. This value depends on maintaining healthy ecosystems. Other than that, in the United States, the reintroduction of the endangered gray wolf into Yellowstone National Park proved to be a huge draw for tourists, and much of this money was used to further scientific research into gray wolf conservation. Conservation of endangered species has paid itself back many times over, hence, it is important to continue such efforts. 

(Supporting 2) It is also important, as these endangered species have many medicinal and research uses. Many medicines and new products are developed from plants and other organisms. For example, Cinchona quinine, a genus of 38 species native to the tropical Andes forests of western South America, was the anti-malarial drug of choice until the 1940s. Aspirin originally came from willow bark. Pacific Yew, a near-threatened species according to the IUCN, produces taxol, a chemical used in fighting cancer. Beyond medicine, other products have been and can be developed from plants. (Srub mints serve as natural insecticides.) These species are only a small proportion of the plant species capable of practical use. Humans have still not found, nor tapped into the potential of many plant species around the world. However, many of these species could go extinct before we can ever discover them; even for plants species that are identified as useful and endangered (aforementioned ones), if no precaution is taken, they may become extinct quickly. Such would cause their potential to be lost completely. Hence, it is important to continue conservation. Beyond plants, endangered animals have research uses. Recently, marine biologists have been optimistic that the study of dolphins might help them understand cervical cancer since they are the “only species besides humans that we know of that can harbor co-infections in the genital mucosa.” The killing of these marine mammals limits the research and development humans will be able to do. 

(Supporting 3) It is important, as these endangered species balance the ecosystem. Due to the interconnectedness of the ecosystem, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one extinct plant species can lead to the loss of 30 other insect, plant, and animal species found in the higher levels of the food chain. These individual plant or animal species are sometimes called the keystone species. If they become extinct, the whole ecosystem will be changed drastically. Endangered keystone species include the Northern spotted owl, Gray wolf, and sea otters. For instance, sea otters control sea urchin populations that would otherwise inflict extensive damage to kelp forest ecosystems, and lead to far reaching consequences. Currently, declining sea otter populations in Alaska led to a rise in the number of sea urchins, and consequently the decimation of kelp forests. This leaves fish populations with no place to hide or breed, causing them to migrate to other places. Once the fishes migrate, the bald eagle population is forced to switch their diet to marine birds. As shown, a butterfly effect ripples through the whole food chain. 

(Supporting 3- cont.) This goes beyond the balance and health of ecological systems; sometimes, if a particular endangered species goes extinct, human health may also be adversely affected. For instance, the extinction of the passenger pigeon led to a proliferation of Lyme disease. This is because, passenger pigeons’ main food source, acorns, also happened to be the main food source for deer mice, the main carrier of Lyme’s disease. With the former’s extinction, deer mice face less competition for food (acorns), causing their populations to grow, along with the Lyme disease causing bacteria. Research conducted by biology Professor Rodolfo Dirzo and his colleagues in Kenya have studied how the absence of large animals such as zebras, giraffes and elephants impacts the ecosystem. They observed that affected areas will be overwhelmed with rodents quickly, as seeds and shelter from grass and shrubs become more easily available and the risk of predation drops. Consequently, the number of rodents doubles, as does the number of disease-carrying ectoparasites they harbour. Many of the pathogens the researchers found on the rodents in Kenya pose a threat to human health, including the bacteria that cause plague. (In Africa, a decrease in lions and leopards led to a dramatic increase in Olive Baboons, which threaten farm crops and livestock, and spread intestinal worms.) Hence, it is of importance to continue conservation. 

(Supporting 4) Lastly, it is important, as the will to protect these endangered species, in fact, animals and nature in general, demonstrates a certain value of society. If a species goes extinct, it’s lost forever. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “When I hear of the destruction of a species, I feel just as if all the works of some great writer have perished.” To him, a loss of species is akin to a tragedy. As a society, we have a moral responsibility to prevent this from happening, especially because animals are sentient beings like us. An international panel of neuroscientists declared in 2012 that non-human animals also have consciousness, and that humans are not unique in recognizing themselves in mirrors or in making decisions. Hence, we should also treat animals like sentient beings, and protect them, as we would protect ourselves, from harm and extinction. If not, we would be exhibiting speciesism, an arbitrary distinction based on the incorrect belief that humans are the only species deserving of moral consideration, and such speciesism, like racism and sexism, is a form of prejudice, unjustified and irrational. Hence, it is important that we strive to save the species in danger of extinction. 


(’14)Discuss the view that, with an increasing global need for energy, every possible source should be exploited to the full.

Related: (’07)Is it possible to protect the environment when many countries require increasing amounts of energy to progress?


(Introduction) A popular Saudi Arabian proverb runs: “My grandfather rode a camel, my father drove a car, I fly a jet plane, my son will ride a camel.” This saying is reflective of mankind’s current energy situation; we, as a species, have already consumed 1.5 earth’s worth of resources. If we continue to consume at our current level of energy consumption, earth’s resources will not last us for long. In view of this, some say that every possible energy source should be fully exploited, to get as much energy possible out of the limited resources. But, I feel, this should not be the case. This is because, exploitation of certain energy sources, such as fossil fuels, will actually fuel the sustainability problem and cause many environmental problems. Hence, instead of exploiting every energy source blindly, we should focus on developing alternative energy sources, namely, renewable, nuclear energy, while cutting back our reliance on fossil fuels, and also use energy more efficiently and conservatively.

(Refute 1) Some argue that every possible source should be exploited. This is because, even at the present, people in some places do not have enough energy to sustain their daily livelihoods. Reports estimate that one person in five still lacks electricity (1.3 billion people). Nearly forty percent of the world’s population (3 billion people), still rely on traditional sources of energy, such as wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating. Given that the present energy needs are still not met, and that future needs are going to increase (International Energy Agency’s annual World Energy Outlook forecast that global energy demand will increase 37% by 2040), the world does not have leeway to slow down exploitation. Every possible energy source needs to be exploited to solve the current, more urgent problem of bringing these people and countries out of their energy shortage situation first. Developed countries, with higher technology, should start using more renewable energy sources, leaving developing countries with more fossil fuels to meet their basic energy needs. As developing countries become more affluent and technologically advanced, they should also use more renewable energy. As seen, there is no possible way for exploitation of energy to slow down. If the world still leaves some energy sources untouched, the current energy shortage problem will only compound, and future will be even bleaker. Hence, exploitation of all possible resources is justified.

(Supporting 1) However, I beg to differ. Energy sources, especially fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, should not be fully exploited, as this method is unsustainable. On the surface, exploitation may seem to reduce the energy problem, but the issue of sustainability worsens. Fossil fuels are limited and are expected to vanish soon. The world could still have oil reserves that would fill 800 million barrels. But it is getting scarcer, and current estimates suggest we will run out between 2025 and 2070. Current natural gas deposits fill around 6000 trillion cubic feet that could, with the current level of usage, last for about 50 years. Coal has the greatest reserves, spread all over the Earth. If we carry on using coal at the same rate as we do today, we could have enough coal to last well over a thousand years. However, as other fossil fuels run out, particularly oil, the use of coal may increase, reducing that time span considerably. As shown, energy sources are depleting, and will all not last long, being substitutes of each other. Once exploited, there will be even less remaining, causing people to be even more frantic in their exploitation of the remaining few deposits, creating a vicious cycle that will only drive up the prices of these scarce resources and prevent people who really need energy from getting it. Hence, exploitation is unjustified.

(Supporting 2) Furthermore, energy sources such as fossil fuels create environmental damage, so they should not be fully exploited. From exploitation of fossil fuels, there has been a huge damage to the environment. Extraction process for oil destroys natural habitats, while its refining process requires the use of toxic chemicals. Mercury contamination, ozone pollution and acid rain stem from the burning of coal. The burning of such fossil fuels also contribute to global warming, as carbon dioxide, a gas that traps heat below the earth’s atmosphere, is emitted, causing a greenhouse effect. Hence, exploitation is unjustified.

(Alternative 1- use more carefully) Alternatively, they could be fully exploited, but exploited more carefully to protect the environment. Instead of selfish, careless exploitation of these resources, more care could be taken to make sure that the process is more environmentally friendly, either by capturing the harmful by-products, or by eliminating them altogether. For instance, Carbon Capture and Storage, a process that captures the carbon dioxide generated from fossil fuel power stations and other energy intense industrial processes and stores it underground, stops it from entering the atmosphere. Fracking, the process where rock is fractured apart by the high pressure water mixture to extract oil and gas, can also be carried out more carefully, to prevent potentially carcinogenic chemicals from escaping and contaminating groundwater around the fracking site.

(Alternative 2- target use of alternative sources) As such, instead of exploiting every possible energy source (fossil fuels), alternative energy sources such as renewable energy, nuclear energy should be made to better use. This is because, these energies are cleaner and more sustainable compared to fossil fuels. Sources such as strong winds, heat within earth, moving water, and solar energy can provide a vast and constant energy supply, without greenhouse gas and net carbon emissions. They do not generate waste products such as carbon dioxide and other more toxic by-products, dramatically reducing toxic air pollution. Nuclear energy is similar, and the amount of energy released is about 60,000,000 times as much as when a carbon atom burns. As seen, these energy sources have great potential (in generating energy), and are better than fossil fuels in the sense that they do not face the problem of scarcity, and pose less of a threat to the environment. However, they are still not used extensively. Still, about 80% of energy comes from fossil fuels. Hence, I feel that more targeted effort should be put into the usage and development of these energy sources, instead of traditional resources.

(Alternative 3- change consumer habits) Lastly, we should not exploit every energy source, because, ultimately, to sustain our energy, a reduction in energy demand through improved energy efficiency and conservation is the best (and only) solution. While energy sources provide solutions to the world’s energy woes, it is but a neutral force that requires people to utilize in meeting the goal of energy sustainability. Hence, it is pertinent to instead correct our use of energy sources. Specifically, we should use energy more efficiently and conservatively. However, since many have become used to using energy wastefully, there is a need for government coordination to change our consumerist behavior. This will involve stricter product regulations as well as public education programmes to encourage people to think differently about energy. Governments should also address the issue of financing, providing cheap loans to households and small businesses with which they can carry out the necessary improvement works. For example, Cleantech, a division of the Economic Development Board Singapore that offers assistance to businesses that specialize in clean technology is a good example of what government can work towards.