Conservationists work hard trying to answer really big questions, such as why birds matter. I have read many answers and tried to formulate one of my own, about why the marbled murrelet matters. But the answers and explanations always seem to come up short. Why is this? Why can we not succinctly and successfully express in words why birds matter? Because our answers are actually to the question, "why do birds matter to me?"
I may have found an explanation of this problem in a book published in 1960--The Forest and the Sea, by Marston Bates (1906-1974), an eminent zoologist, mosquito authority, and professor at University of Michigan
Though the science is a bit outdated, Marston Bates' tackling of the big questions isn't. In the first few pages, he writes of his frustration with a question he no doubt was asked frequently about mosquitoes, "What good is it?"
"I have never learned how to deal with this question. I am left appalled by the point of view that makes it possible...The question is left over from the Middle Ages; from a small, cozy universe in which everything had a purpose in relation to man. The question comes down form the days before Copernicus' theories removed the earth from the center of the solar system, before Newton provided a mechanism for the movements of the starts, before Hutton discovered the immensity of past time, before Darwin's ideas put man into perspective with the rest of the living world.
"Faced with astronomical space and geological time, faced with the immense diversity of living forms, how can who ask one particular kind of butterfly, 'What good is it?'"
"Often my reaction is to ask in turn, 'What good are you?'"
Which is essentially the same as Why do you matter?
Which is a really big question, which does not have an answer.
But here we are, with each other, with the marbled murrelets, with all the mysteries of the natural world. While understanding each living thing matters ecologically, it does not really matter existentially. What matters is that we--the living things with the capacity to understand, protect, restore, and love other living things--use these gifts daily.