Business, Conservation, Nature

Why Preservation Matters (It’s Not Just About Cute Baby Animals!)

Snow leopard
Why do we put such effort into preserving endangered species and environments?
Image: Shutterstock

According to the NWF, there are currently more than 1,300 U.S. plants and animals federally listed as endangered or threatened. Now more than ever, it’s important for everyone–from individuals to small organizations to big business–to be mindful of how we affect these species’ habitats and what we can do to prevent extinction. With more and more environmentally conscious organizations teaming up with large businesses, we’re able to make real improvements when it comes to preserving habitats and species.

But why does that matter? Do we just want to keep cute pandas around? Or is there a more deep-seated need for these species we often take for granted until they’re gone?

It’s not an easy line of questioning to answer.

Certainly the business world is taking a greater interest in making sure their actions don’t negatively impact the environment. According to Ken Mehlman, private equity giant KKR’s recent partnership with Resource Environmental Solutions (RES) is only one example of KKR’s dedication to “improving environmental impacts at KKR portfolio companies.” KKR has also invested more than $5 billion in companies working toward improving the environment, building human capital, promoting health, and taking a stab at solving societal problems.

Still, extinction rates are up. Habitats are being destroyed. The costs to fix—or at least slow—the destruction would be astronomical (a 2012 study estimated it would cost $76 billion to preserve threatened land animals alone).

But why does any of this matter?

A BBC article from last year suggests several important reasons. “Nature is beautiful, and that aesthetic value is a reason to keep it, just as we preserve artistic masterpieces like the Mona Lisa or Angkor Wat,”

One answer is that species are now going extinct far faster than they used to. A recent study estimated that the extinction rate has increased a hundredfold over the last century, and we seem to be to blame.

But beyond that, there’s a simple reason to save species: because we want to.

“Nature is beautiful, and that aesthetic value is a reason to keep it, just as we preserve artistic masterpieces like the Mona Lisa or Angkor Wat,” writes author Michael Marshall.

But he goes on to point out that our desire to preserve the environment must go beyond this—after all, what about the animals and plants that aren’t beautiful? Is there no reason to preserve them as well?

There are other reasons for preservation, of course. Bioprospecting, the practice of exploring the natural world in order to find commercially useful products, is a good economic reason, for example. Who knows what medical breakthrough will come next as part of the scientific study of the rain forests? Certainly not us, if we destroy them first.

Then there are the basics: Plants provide us with oxygen. Bees pollinate the crops we need to eat to live. Both plants and animals are part of an intricate ecosystem that feeds on itself and keeps us all in harmony.

Ultimately, organizations like the National Wildlife Federation, as well as businesses like RES and KKR, must come to their own decisions regarding their choices to preserve our environment. But the important part is that they do, whether for economic, altruistic, or aesthetic reasons.

And that’s a start.

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