Unearthing the Secrets of the Monterey Shale
“It is perhaps ironic that the same dynamic geology that produced some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet — a biodiversity that has nurtured the condor and the kit fox and the leopard lizard over millennia — has also produced a substance that drives our economy and whose extraction may soon pose a threat to that same biodiversity, not to mention our groundwater, agriculture, and air quality.”
This article calls to mind several important issues. What is the role of beauty in conservation? Often people object to the exploitation or “spoiling” of a place or system based on its aesthetic merits. For instance, disliking the idea of fracking a scenic ridge. Pandering to us in this way is a valuable tool in mobilizing the public to care, and widely utilized (“save x cute animal”, “save y gorgeous forest”) perhaps since the damming of Hetch Hetchy, but, is it constructive? While it compels people to care in the short term by appealing to their sentimentality, does it serve at all to educate them about the often invisible complexities, ramifications, and importance of natural systems? To say we must save the wolves because they are lovely and majestic undercuts the importance the apex consumer has to the trophic system. At worst, appeals framed in this way are misinformation, as they imply that an organism’s merit is chiefly in its anthropocentric usefulness or allure. In the specific case of the Monterey shale formations, much of the flora and fauna (sage and lizards) are not traditionally beautiful and beg little attention. It must certainly be in our better interest to frame these arguments not on “please give, I’m cute!” standards, but rather to try to better educate people about biodiversity loss and bio regionalism.