According to one line of reasoning, the tragedy of climate change is that it imperils humanity. The number of people on Earth has surpassed 6 billion. As the number of people increases, so must the food supply. Climate change, in targeting species of fish for extinction, robs people of a valuable source of protein. Overgrazing of rangeland does more than alter the climate by reducing the number of plants. It reduces the capacity of the land to feed a burgeoning population. In the 1930s, decades of overgrazing and wheat monoculture caused soil erosion on a vast scale. Drought brought matters to a crisis, as huge dust clouds assailed the western United States. As humans heat Earth with greenhouse gases, cause acid rain to accumulate in lakes, and overgraze the land, they may find food in short supply, causing a Malthusian crisis.
According to another line of reasoning, the tragedy of climate change is that it imperils Earth's rich biodiversity. Plants and animals do not have value because they can feed humans. They have value simply by their uniqueness. Beyond that, they have an aesthetic value apart from any economic considerations. They have as much right to the Earth as do humans. This view accords well with the recognition that all life, including humanity, is a product of evolution. No species may claim superiority. All happen by chance to occupy Earth at the same time.
Conservation biology may be unique among the subfields of biology in advocating policy. As a rule, geneticists and molecular biologists, for example, do not advocate policy. Often, they pursue research without the expectation that it will influence policymakers. By contrast, conservation biologists go a step beyond these sciences in urging government, for example, to curb the emission of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and chlorofluorocarbons. Conservation biologists are not only scientists, important as the profession of science is; they are advocates. They work with legislators to fashion policy that protects plants and animals. Because of their role in advocating policy, conservation biologists court public opinion. In this sense, conservation biology is a public science.
Conservation biology may also be unique in the breadth of its ties to other scientific disciplines and to nonscientific professions. By its nature, conservation biology is multidisciplinary. A full list of complementary disciplines may be difficult to construct, but conservation biology has ties to wildlife management, fisheries biology, the agricultural sciences, forestry, ecology, climatology, population biology, taxonomy, and genetics. In addition to working with scientists from these disciplines, conservation biologists work with journalists and newspaper editors. Some of the most influential conservation biologists—Aldo Leopold, for example—wrote in a journalistic vein.
Finally, conservation biology may be unique in seeking to protect the entire biota, the full range of species. Agricultural scientists are confined to crops and livestock, and the fisheries biologists to certain species of fish; but conservation biologists have every organism as their field of study. Conservation biologists believe that their central purpose is to protect Earth's biodiversity. Because climate change threatens biodiversity, conservation biologists aim, as one of their principal challenges, to stop, or at least slow down, climate change.
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