Teen Spotlight: Endangered species: talking point of the century | AspenTimes.com

Teen Spotlight: Endangered species: talking point of the century

Rylee Smith
Special to the Snowmass Sun

As of 2023, there are more than 42,100 species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List threatened with extinction. IUCN’s list was created to help to gain insight into the health of the world’s biodiverse environments. Losing these species is detrimental to their crucial role in the food chain, nutrient cycling and countless more roles.

It is critical to head toward a state in which species’ living standards reach a humane level. The ecosystems and species of our world are in the midst of mass extinction and resource deficit, which are shifting not only the stability of our climate but every life form. 

ACES (Aspen Center for Environmental Studies) education director, Andrea Aust, explains the importance of conservation.

“Every species has its niche in the environment … its job to do and eventually when you lose too many of those jobs and organisms, there is a tipping point in which an ecosystem will fall apart,” Aust said.  

The absence of these species is the absence of imperative ingredients to life and the possibility of loss is increasing through human lead causes, which can shift a habitat’s ability to fully restore itself. As of 2023, the extinction rate is escalating 1,000 to 10,000 times faster, pointing back to the impact of humans on sustainability. 

Adam McCurdy, the climate and forest director of ACES, equates the loss of species to a Jenga tower, “Where you can pull one thing out and it’s a different tower now, but it’s still stable. However, when you pull enough of them out, the tower falls apart and you no longer have that stable state which results in a collapse.” 

When species become endangered, this impacts both the biodiversity and all the other species which relied upon their existence. 

Factors such as general habitat loss (deforestation), the release of carbon emissions, a decrease of genetic variation, temperature shift, unforeseen events such as volcanic eruptions and other factors can influence the rate of endangerment. Over time, both the frequency and intensity of these occurrences have begun to increase. 

These changes not only influence the obvious species such as blue whales and black rhinos, but every little organism, such as the fungus, may go unseen yet have remarkable importance. 

McCurdy explains, “The other two causes that get less attention both involve humans and the movement of species and pathogens. Invasive species are one as we are really rapidly accelerating the rate at which species move around the globe.”

When pathogens or species move into an ecosystem that has not adapted to it being present, this can also pose a threat and a net loss of biodiversity.

With the aim of mitigating the many threats toward species of plants, animals, and other species, the Endangered Species act of 1973 was passed. A study by PeerJ examined the effectiveness of this legislation, which found that it has prevented the extinction of roughly 291 species and saved 99% of species. Other legislation such as the Natural Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, and Clean Air Act have also had influential impacts on the health of several environments. 

“Even with certain updates, these legislative acts provide the framework of how we continue to engage in environmental protection,” McCurdy said. “They have done a lot of good, yet I believe that we can still look at them and recognize that they’re not perfect. They are very reactive as opposed to proactive, in the sense that we wait until a species becomes threatened before we take any action whereas if we were to focus on habitat protection and preventing things from ever getting to that point, we begin to protect the things that we cannot see.”

In some cases, environmental conservation is not always an attainable standard for many individuals. People must have the ability to make choices. It is also important to recognize that legislation and the need for environmental conservation can fall directly on the nation, environmental value system, and one’s capability to be environmentally friendly based upon varying circumstances.

“When we think globally, there has to be some type of agreement between nations. We have to think about all the species that migrate and need to have habitats protected in all these different countries through international waters. We have to talk about the protection of a habitat rather than just a species,” Aust said. 

Although these issues may appear unchangeable, we still have time to mitigate these consequences through widespread education and awareness. Through access to information in technology and environmental organizations, such as ACES, Gen Z has the ability to make others aware of and vocalize for species, who are absent of a voice. It is also important to recognize that change begins with individual action, which can bloom into something greater.  

 “It’s not a top-down, it’s a bottom-up (shift when change happens),” McCurdy said.  

It begins with us and has the opportunity to expand to the power-holding legislators and branch out within the common culture of the world. It is within both our obtainable reach and our perpetual responsibility to conserve the threatened species of this generation in order to preserve the natural environment for generations to come. It is easier said than done to both live the values at which we promote. Yet, through awareness, understanding, and choice, we can give these species one more chance to build back up. One more chance to restore what human activities have exploited. One more chance at life.

Rylee Smith is a junior at Aspen High School. This is her first year as a staff writer for the Skier Scribbler.