-OpEd-

BUENOS AIRES — Would people pay more attention to the species that are disappearing if they burned to death in the heart of Paris instead of becoming extinct without anyone knowing or caring?

It would be madness not to care about the loss of a symbol, especially a beautiful one, regardless of its religious status. For even an idolater or animist would admit that the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is an extravagance worthy of existence and contemplation.

As a monument conceived to defy the passing of time, its existence is worth more than its utility, and it would be culturally shortsighted to merely judge its going up in flames on the basis of religious sympathy (or antipathy). Here, beauty trumps ideology.

But the drama of fire crushing beauty raises questions regarding people's sense of justice. Is Notre Dame more important than social justice or the natural world? People have felt unease on seeing the rich clout of magnates opening their palatial wallets to right a wrong. This show of universal empathy crashed against the facade of globalized frustrations, and the publicized zeal of a few billionaires is prompting indignation, not admiration. Indeed the sources of such wealth arouse ethical doubts in a world that is all but in flames. Is our society seething and sick of unequal destinies?

One may reasonably regret the loss of cultural icons, but where does a world filled with nonsense leave notions of what is reasonable? Reason heaves under the social inequality that is deviating humanity from a viable future.

The social response to the fire deserves reflection when compared to other calamities. I shall direct my words toward one in particular: the lack of response to the extinction of species.

Don't let anybody fool you: The state of the natural world and the extinction threatening so many species is not due to insufficient resources. Resources abound and are enough not just to safeguard all life forms from the ill-treatment we inflict on them, but also to bring billions of humans within reach of good living standards. There is money for this and to pay for all national parks and protected areas, and safeguard all the expressions of art and science while assuring the good health of individuals and society.

What is truly a loss, and unacceptable, is the extinction of a natural species because of human action.

There are more than enough resources in the world, so much that if better redistributed, we might not even know what to do with so many blessings. We would have enough to seek out life on other planets, to convey to them our infinite respect. We can be sure of this: There is no shortage. There is concentration, accumulation and inequality.

Much work lies ahead — Photo: Jacques Paquier

The collapse of Notre Dame cathedral is bad and dramatic. But what is truly a loss, and unacceptable, is the extinction of a natural species because of human action. There are many creatures in this condition at the moment.

People do not understand what is at stake. Many of the rich do not understand it who could finance those who are working to stop this unacceptable truth. Governments do not understand it either. Quite simply there is a lack of understanding, though the matter is far from incomprehensible.

Those who say that every species lost is like a cathedral collapsing are almost right. They would be absolutely right if they said that a disappearing creature is quite different to all the cathedrals, mosques or monuments we might have built throughout history, and more essential, profound, important and irreplaceable. Take note: We took the blue whale to the verge of extinction.

Today, we have the technological ability to rebuild cathedrals in no time. The rich have the money for it. But we cannot replace a single lost species, not even with enough gold to unhinge the planet in its orbit. Those who talk about bringing species back to life do not know how to use language.

Notre Dame will, we hope, be rebuilt, even as many species continue their precipitous downfall. This apparent pattern of history is spreading frustration and ire, to the point of sickening a part of humanity. Many of us are sick of constantly losing out to those who never reason.

Conservation of nature is a prolonged exercise in repeated failures. It produces resentment, which came to the surface before this shameless ostentation of wealth. We push countless forms of life toward extinction. How shall we react when the day of our downfall arrives? I predict a departure bereft of glory or regret. We shall succumb for being insensitive and irrational. We are not frightened by our vulnerable condition. We live in delusion and are not human.


See more from Culture / Society here