Carnivorous Powelliphanta snails that can grow to the size of a man’s fist are being attacked by a coal mining company (note that this article was found in a business journal). What is wrong with letting a company move a colony of endangered snails? Well, first, the odds are very high that the move will fail. Secondly, if you don’t draw the line here, what will stop the next person from moving them again when they want to build condos where they have just been moved? Why bother to save a snail species at all?
Good question. The usual answer is that we may one day learn something extremely valuable from it, like we have from thousands of other species (penicillin, painkillers). Every species is a unique repository of knowledge. Understandably, companies looking to make $50,000,000 are not about to let that argument stop them. I also don’t really blame a bank robber for wanting the money in a bank — but that is no reason to let him take it. No one has the right to destroy the data stored in that snail’s genes. You could argue that since we are all products of this planet, those genes belong to everyone, especially the snail, and geographic location is irrelevant.

Admittedly, the odds that chemicals derived from that snail will one day save someone’s life are extremely remote. However, every time someone reads about that snail, or sees one, their quality of life will be enhanced by the sheer pleasure of knowing it exists.

There are not that many things in this world I know with absolute certainty. However, I do know with certainty that we are in the middle of a major extinction event. Do not let anyone tell you different. The number of species nearing extinction grows every year. Lines have to be drawn now. If you can’t draw the line with this species you will not draw the line at the next, or the next, or the next.

The snail pictured at the start of this post was photographed in a cloud forest. It was unique in that it had evolved to climb in jungle foliage, having an amazing ability to reach from one branch to another. Imagine discovering coal under this small mountaintop jungle. Would we let the coal company try to move the forest to another mountaintop? I would hope not, but the human capacity to rationalize apparently has no bounds.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

We all know what happens when you pour salt on a snail. But, once again, what you think is common knowledge often falls under the assault of more knowledge. There are plenty of snails that live in salt water (see the video). Millions of years of evolution have crafted uncounted genetic variations to basic themes, and every loss in our human time scale is a tragedy.

A practical solution to this problem would be the threat of significant prison time (something a little more threatening than the inconvenience suffered by Martha Stewart) for certain responsible individuals (CEOs) if the ecosystem move fails. Write it into the laws. They would either make sure it was successful or they would not take the risk. Most would not take the risk, knowing damn well that failure is almost a certainty.

I can just see a company scrambling to change the labels on its organization charts to shift blame. Some poor janitor would probably end up taking the fall because he was suddenly promoted to CEO.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.