Biodiversity gets its 15 minutes
Last evening, during Edward O. Wilson?s Baptist sermon-like address to an auditorium of 600 diverse faces at the American Museum of Natural History, the environment and its advocates got a bit of a pep talk. With the eminent naturalist?
Last evening, during Edward O. Wilson?s Baptist sermon-like address to an auditorium of 600 diverse faces at the American Museum of Natural History, the environment and its advocates got a bit of a pep talk. With the eminent naturalist?s signature articulacy, humor, and frankness (take "Soccer moms are the greatest enemy of natural history," or "It might have been a big mistake to give economics a Nobel Prize"), he took on the case for studying and preserving biodiversity.
Ninety percent of the world?s species?that translates into tens of millions?may still be unknown, he declared. The "Linnaean pursuit" of cataloguing these species took a major hit when the molecular revolution captured scientists? imaginations, according to the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. And most would admit, the task of hauling new species into labs, and identifying and classifying them is not the sexiest of scientific pursuits. But "believe me," he countered, "it?s one of the greatest adventures left," particularly with the new biotechnology tools available today. And he thinks we should recruit new scientists to take advantage of them.
The benefits? We?ll be prepared when new pathogens emerge. "This is simply another case of biodiversity. We need to know what they are in advance," Wilson argued. And as for the (presumably already classified) elephant in the room, the fact that linkurl:global warming;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/23163/ is driving many of these species to extinction at an alarming rate, understanding the earth?s ecological spectrum arguably brings one closer to saving it.
How to go about accomplishing that enormous task? $28 billion towards preserving the earth?s "hotspots" would take care of 70% of its known species, Wilson said, citing data presented at a conference sponsored by Conservation International. The trick now is to convince people that it?s as worthwhile a cause as finding the cure for cancer. He suggested one approach: appealing to the linkurl:economic gains;http://www.the-scientist.com/2006/4/1/38/1/ of creating wildlife reserves, for instance.
Another is to take the Bono route and shine a pop-cultural spotlight on the issue. After Wilson?s talk last evening, yards of fans were coiled around the museum?s stuffed wildlife displays, waiting for the father of sociobiology to sign their copies of his latest essay collection. Perhaps he and former vice president Al Gore, star of the recently released global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, should go on tour together, spreading the good word on the fight for biodiversity. Wilson?s optimistic appraisal of their prospects: "If we can get in gear, we can do it."
June 16, 2006
What is left out of the otherwise interesting blog is that E.O. Wilson was talking to promote his new book, "Nature Revealed: Selected Writings, 1949-2006". In that 700+ page book one can find the genious of Wilson.