NANFA-- EO Wilson address; off topic

Nick Zarlinga (
Mon, 24 Nov 2003 08:08:32 -0500

| Conserving Biodiversity: A Global View
| Excerpted from an address by Edward O. Wilson on September 4, 2003, to
| Cornell University's scientific community, celebrating the opening of
| the Lab
| of Ornithology's Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and
| Biodiversity.
| I really am very grateful for the opportunity to join you on this
| special
| occasion and also to take this opportunity to stress that the Cornell
| Laboratory of Ornithology, among its multiple roles as a growing
| powerhouse
| of science, education, and public policy, is a major resource for
| conservation of biodiversity.
| Bear in mind that the world's environmental problems and opportunities
| divide
| into two categories. On the one side is the physical deterioration of
| the
| earth's surface, such as global warming and toxic pollution. That can be
| fixed, maybe even reversed, with money and political will. On the other
| side
| is the erosion of the living environment by the shrinking and outright
| erasure of species and entire ecosystems. When extinction occurs, it
| can't be
| fixed, not by any amount of money or will.
| The present state of the living environment can be summarized very
| briefly as
| follows. First, in the last several decades especially, scientists have
| found
| the biosphere to be far richer in diversity, particularly in species and
| genes than ever before conceived. Second, that biodiversity, which has
| taken
| over 3.billion years to evolve, is being eroded at an accelerating rate
| by
| human activity. At the present rate of habitat loss particularly in the
| tropical forests and the shallow marine environments, we could lose as
| many
| as half of the species of plants and animals on earth by the end of this
| century. Third, that loss overall is going to inflict a heavy price in
| wealth, security, and spirit .On the other hand, the scientific studies
| and
| wise management of biodiversity can yield benefits and new knowledge,
| wealth,
| and security, beyond imagination.
| The immediate human future can be thought of as a bottleneck of
| overpopulation and rising per capita consumption. It's a bottleneck that
| will
| last most or all of this century but then, at the end of the century or
| sooner, if we are sufficiently wise and lucky, we will see the widening
| out
| again of the bottleneck. Meanwhile, however, data from the best-known
| groups
| of organisms --- the f lowering plants and vertebrates --- show a
| continuing
| high rate of extinction, and that is evidently accelerating. So we are
| in a
| race in this century as far as the rest of life is concerned -a race
| with an
| increasingly clearly defined finish line.
| If we get through the bottleneck, while bringing through as much of the
| rest
| of life as we can, for the benefit of all generations, then it will be
| considered in future centuries a great accomplishment of this century,
| even
| as we head for the outer stars, even as we have computers with
| better-than-human capability and all of these wonders that the futurists
| among us dream of without, in many cases, understanding the reality of
| this
| planet. Perhaps my imagination is defective but I ask, what could be a
| more
| noble goal than that?
| Let me put the environment and the human prospect this way, in
| biological
| terms. The rest of life comprising natural ecosystems -and I 'm
| compelled to
| add, birds at the conspicuous apex -run the world just the way we like
| it,
| without any effort on our part, without costing us a cent. Biodiversity
| manufactures the atmosphere, clears the water, creates the fertile soil,
| and
| above all, creates a living world on which our own lives depend.
| The more that we degrade and destroy the natural environment through
| selfishness and short-term planning, the more we depend on prosthetic
| devices
| of engineering, like gigantic water-filtering plants, etc., to maintain
| the
| equilibrium that the natural world provides for us scot-free, and the
| more we
| turn this planet into a literal Spaceship Earth, in which our existence
| depends upon our continuing alertness and ingenuity, pushing the right
| buttons, pulling the right levers, monitoring every square kilometer,
| just to
| keep things going because we destroyed the natural base that kept it
| that way
| for billions of years until our own species arrived.
| The monetary value of the ecosystem services that the natural living
| environment provides was estimated in 1997 by a team of ecologists to be
| about $33 trillion annually. That is a bit more than the annual world
| domestic product, in other words, everything that all of the human race
| creates economically.
| In the realm of science, we need to get on with the exploration of
| biodiversity. Amazingly, we probably know and have given a scientific
| name to
| only a small minority, perhaps 10 percent, of the species of organisms
| on
| earth. The number of named species lies, we believe, somewhere between
| 1.5
| and 1.8 million, diagnosed, published, and given a scientific name. The
| actual number of species on earth, that is, known plus unknown, has been
| estimated variously to fall somewhere between 3.6 million, an improbably
| low
| figure, and over 100 million species, and is very likely to fall closer
| to
| the upper end. It's been recently projected, for example, that about 4
| million species of bacteria, virtually all unknown to science, are found
| in a
| ton of fertile soil. Least known are these bacteria and other
| microorganisms.
| Best known, of course, are the birds, but even there, an average of
| three
| verifiable new species of birds a year are discovered, and that number
| may
| rise steeply when genetic comparison along with field tests of
| reproductive
| isolation are used more widely using the kind of sound recordings of
| which
| you have the best collection in the world.
| In short, we live on a little-known planet, and it's crucial to find out
| the
| full extent of life on this planet and how we can best manage and
| benefit
| from it. We also need to learn how best to conserve these natural
| ecosystems
| in a way that is as acceptable to the developing countries as it is to
| the
| industrialized countries. Environmental biology, conservation of natural
| resources, and the proper management and use of them to help build the
| economies in developing countries should be an important part of our
| foreign
| policy. Economic development of our future trading partners and our
| defense
| against terrorism and civil war will depend upon assisting these
| countries to
| develop their scientific and technological capacity. There is no better
| way
| and no better conduit than the kind of institution this Laboratory
| represents.
| What you have here is the equivalent of growth stock in the business
| world;
| invest in it because this is where the action is going to be. Not just
| science, not just biology -a great part of which is going to be focused
| on
| biodiversity and on the maintenance and nature of ecosystems -but
| radiating
| out through new kinds of agriculture, forestry, ecotourism, a search for
| pharmaceuticals, and so on, a large part of what the world is going to
| be
| about in practical terms in the decades ahead.
| Not to commit to global conservation, to stand by and watch the world's
| billion-year heritage go down the drain, is the folly our descendants
| will
| least likely forgive us. The protection of biodiversity, based upon
| understanding it, making use of it, enjoying it, and celebrating it
| -among
| the many reasons in science, education, and spirituality -is why the
| work of
| the Laboratory of Ornithology should continue and flourish. I am proud
| to be
| associated with it, however momentarily. Thank you.
| Edward O. Wilson, professor emeritus at Harvard University, is a
| specialist
| on ants and social behavior, and is known as the "Father of Biodiversity
| "
| for his contributions to understanding and protecting life on earth.

Nick Zarlinga
Aquarium Biologist
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
216.661.6500 ext 4485
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