The Case For Being Unreasonable

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There are only about 1,000 mountain gorillas, but their numbers have risen from a low of just a few hundred. Credit Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, via Associated Press

Thanks to James Gorman for this brief masterpiece:

Is There Hope for These Great Apes?

Mountain gorillas are faring better — perhaps because some humans just won’t listen to reason.

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Ecotourism is largely responsible for the resources to protect the mountain gorilla. Credit Christophe Courteau/NPL, via Minden Pictures

Last Thursday there was a bit of good news relating to the impending extinction and destruction of everything.

The mountain gorilla, a subspecies of the Eastern gorilla, was upgraded from critically endangered to endangered. There still are only about 1,000 of them, up from a low point of a few hundred, so it’s not like they were declared vulnerable (better than endangered), or just fine (not a real category). And the Eastern gorilla as a species overall is still critically endangered.

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A 10-month-old mountain gorilla in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.Credit Credit Suzi Eszterhas/Minden Pictures

But the mountain gorillas are in fact doing better, according to the announcement from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. It bases its decisions on information gathered from scientists and conservation experts.

The gorillas’ population has been increasing for about 30 years. And it has taken a tremendous amount of struggle and work to get this far.

That raises a question: If things have improved so much for an animal in such a dire situation as the mountain gorilla, should we then give in to hope?

I know this isn’t the accepted way of speaking about the planet and its creatures. In public discourse, hope is the one thing you should never give up. But in our minds (well, in my mind, anyway, and I can’t be the only one), the reasoning behind that often expressed sentiment is not so clear.

What if a rational look at the facts points in the other direction? What if, for instance, the planet were getting warmer every year, and there was a lack of political will to try to stop the trend? What if we were in the middle of a mass extinction caused by humans?

Imagine, just for a moment, that the planet had 7.7 billion people, who had already used up a lot of the space for bears and wolves and lions and — oh, I don’t know — gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans. Suppose that all of the great apes were either endangered or critically endangered.

And, just as a thought experiment, what if there were going to be 9.8 billion people in 2050 and 11.2 billion people in 2100? Imagine that the population of Africa, where all gorillas live, is one of the fastest growing, with 26 countries expected to double in size by 2050.

Of course, all those things are actually true. Perhaps I am blinded by my own pessimism, but I do often wonder whether hope is a rational response to reality.

On the other hand, hope does seem to have played a role in the mountain gorillas’ rebound. After we reduced them to a point where it seemed they would go extinct by the year 2000, some humans worked incredibly hard to protect them. And the gorillas survived, even through the very dark period of the Rwandan genocide…

Read the whole article here.

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