Extinction Rate: 27,000 Per Year?

Dear Phil (if it's OK to call you that):

Sorry I've been so slow to respond to your last message. Like you, I suffer from the 21st-century disease of "busy."

I appreciate your friendly overture, and I would never turn an extended hand away.

Let me clarify, when I say I'm a man of science, I mean I'm a man who looks up to reason. Unless I find myself being guided by a greater power (which I'm afraid I generally don't know how to access), I believe in relying on logic and the scientific method, as well as my own powers of observation. I'm not myself a scientist per se, although I have some modest training in that area and have worked for 20 years as a science editor (for Science magazine and [for the past 12 years] the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacists).

I know that the powers of reason, logic, and science are severely limited. They seem sufficient, however, for understanding what happened to those woods of my boyhood.

I read a lot of books on wildlife when I was a boy and always had an intense interest in living systems...I did manage to graduate from college summa cum laude with an English B.A. My true, unrealized bent was always science, though. I filled in some of the gaps by taking night school courses in math, chemistry, physiology, and so forth, but they never added up to anything with a definable shape. However, I have edited (and therefore read) literally thousands of research articles in the life and physical sciences for the above-mentioned journals. Anyway, in sum, this is about all I can offer as a basis for any "professional" opinions. If you think this qualifies me sufficiently to answer in a credible way the questions you have, I'd be delighted to try. And of course, we always have the Internet at our disposal if want to check any facts.

I think that a lot of the things I believe in regarding the population issue are self-evident. Therefore, it always amazes me a little when I encounter diametrically opposite opinions. I guess there's hardly anyway walking the earth who hasn't experienced that phenomenon, though.

I'm sure Seattle is much better planned that D.C. is. I've lived in the D.C. area since 1968 and am working and saving hard for that day when I and my beloved life partner can move wherever we choose to. I have the idea of a lot of land and a sturdy little cabin and a barn somewhere where there aren't too many people. :)

I thought of you today (in an indirect way) when I left the grocery store. A Knight of Columbus was collecting for the blind. I gave him some money and felt very good walking home with the groceries. It does feel good to give, and I am entirely too uninvolved with the community (such as it is) and with people in general. My life partner (who long studied the bible by correspondence course with a church in Louisiana while growing up in Nigeria) is deeply but no longer formally religious and has encouraged me to pray, which we do before dinner each night. That's about the extent of my religiosity. I'm confused by religion, at times terrified of it. It seems to be a source at once of good and of terrible destruction. But I know that man's religions are nothing more than a human effort to make sense out of the cosmos and to reach the organizing principle that must surely exist. Therefore, the religions of man have all the flaws of man. God must exist in a state of separate pureness that we can but dimly perceive. I do know that despite all the bad things that have happened to me, I am very blessed and fortunate.

Well, I'm getting into your own area of expertise, and without any training whatsoever! Anyway, I'm very happy to make your acquaintance and hope we will find the time to discover whatever we're destined to discover through each other.

Best regards,



Dear Steve,

Great to hear from you - and for you to share so much of yourself. Again, apologies for my slowness. Appreciate you giving to the Knights of Columbus. And prayers for...and for your own quest to make sense of those questions about God. Of course, if God exists, it's more a matter of him reaching us that us reaching him. That is, the initiative is on his side, ours is the response. The word "destined" implies a Being with a purpose.

You sound like just the person I want to address some of my own more mundane, curious questions to. I'm trying to understand what going on with extinction of species. First, what is a species? I understand that we humans are one species, but are dogs one species? How many species are there? I read somewhere that there are four million, about a million or so actually classifiied by scientists. Are those numbers anywhere near correct? And then I hear that 99% of all the species that have ever existed went extinct a long time ago. Is that true? Are there new species which have emerged in the last century or two?

Those are general questions as a background to a very specific one. Our local paper (the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) in an editorial on population control stated that each year 27,000 species disappear. I have been trying to find out what local ones, or one, is included in the that number. When I've asked people, they couldn't give an answer but referred me to websites on endangered species. The only thing I could find locally were animals on the endangered lists, but none that has actually disappeared. I noticed that some like the Columbia White Tail Deer were actually taken off the endangered list - I presume because the work of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had enabled them to recover. Do you see my question. You would think that among the 27,000 who disappear annually there would be many examples in an area like W. Wash. which has had such a huge population growth in the past four decades.


Fr. Phil Bloom