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Our relationship with animals is complicated and intense. We love, nurture and, in some places, worship them, but also work, eat and abuse them. (See Poor Henny Penny and Ethical Eggs, Dairy and Meat to learn about the abuse known as factory farming.)

Do you recognize this crazy mix of positive and negative treatment? It's found in our relationship with people, too. For like people, animals are both competitors and companions. Our affinity with them is strong.

The fact is, animals are the only known creatures in the universe like us. As such, they perform a unique service, relieving us from existential loneliness. If they did nothing else for us, we would need them for that.

But, of course, we need them for everything, from pollinating the flowers (see It's Not About the Honey) to distributing seeds to fertilizing the soil. Without animals, there would be no life as we know it, and certainly no "us."

Modern life obscures this reality—and it is a vital thing to know, for according to many scientists, a mass extinction is underway, caused by habitat destruction and other human activities. This is not merely sad, but potentially catastrophic.

More is at stake than the polar bears, whales and other big animals that stir us so. As the scientist E.O. Wilson might say (if he weren't so civil), it's the biodiversity, stupid.

The solutions aren't simple. They will require concerted action on many fronts around the world. We can prepare ourselves to support and push for them by acquainting ourselves better with the life around us.

So step outdoors, watch the insects in your garden, enjoy The Fall Migration and Share Your Nature Sightings. On a purely emotional level, you won't be sorry.

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