Why study ecology? This question can prompt different responses from different perspectives. Some people are curious about how the world works and how our environment affects human lives. Others wonder how we can use nature as a model to fix the ever-increasing number of problems that contemporary society faces. For me, observing animals interact with each other and with their environment has always been a source of interest and enjoyment. The thread that connects all of these reasons to pursue a study of ecology, and includes even the individual with no expressed interest in learning about the earth and its organisms, is the responsibility shared by everyone to learn about how our actions impact our environment, and how to protect it.
The human population is larger than ever and is facing enormous difficulties, many of them from our own doing. We have been exploiting our natural resources – wasting fresh water, clearing forests, and emitting toxic gases into the air. People have finally started to realize the negative impact they have on the environment, and some are trying to change habits and styles of living. Individual efforts are necessary and should be encouraged and supported, but there must also be a large-scale effort in place to try to counter some of the damages that have occurred. In order for this endeavor to succeed, nations need professionals studying the ways in which the organisms of the earth have survived and adapted and the way that different ecosystems function in relation to each other. Ecologists will be key players in determining the way that humans will continue to live on Earth.
There is also an aesthetic reason to pursue the study of ecology. Human beings have benefitted in intangible ways from diversity of plant and animal life on earth. Even those unable to travel to Africa to see the giraffes or the mountain gorillas benefit from images of them captured on film and literature that includes them. People traveling to Florida or tropical areas for a vacation often take the opportunity to swim around the coral reefs, marveling at the huge array of marine life that can be found there. But what if there are no more giraffes or coral reefs? Human actions have been steadily destroying their ecosystems. In order that we, and future generations, can continue to experience and enjoy the richness of this diversity, we will have to put into place conservation and preservation efforts. These efforts will be based on ecological study and understanding.
As the only inhabitants of the earth who can understand and do something about the impact we have, we have a responsibility to protect this planet. Studying ecology gives people the tools that they need to examine their own actions and be accountable for them.