Edward O. Wilson: Protect Biodiversity Hot Spots and the Rest Will Follow

By Steele, Diana | Science News, December 20, 2008 | Go to article overview

Edward O. Wilson: Protect Biodiversity Hot Spots and the Rest Will Follow


Steele, Diana, Science News


Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University has written and lectured widely infields ranging from sociobiology and evolutionary psychology to conservation biology. He spoke recently on "sustainability" at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. Wilson believes that too much emphasis has been placed on trying to reduce energy consumption and avert climate change--what he calls the "physical environment"--and too little on preserving habitat and biodiversity, or the "living environment." For Wilson, preserving the living environment means protecting areas of the world with the most concentrated biodiversity. He also believes that poverty is a critical factor that needs to be addressed to achieve a sustainable world. Freelance science writer Diana Steele excerpted his remarks:

The tragedy unfolding in our ignorance, in our preoccupation with strictly physical environments, is that human action is destroying countless species and even ecosystems before we even know they existed. Many of them are millions of years old; all of them are exquisitely adapted to some particular part of the environment.... If you save the living environment, that's the rest of life around us, and the full diversity of it, then you will automatically save the physical environment too. But if you save only the physical environment and ignore the living environment, you will ultimately lose both....

The 21st century, I believe, is going to be noted as the century of the environment. The immediate future can be usefully conceived as a bottleneck, of still-rapid population growth and high per capita investment and consumption. Science and technology, combined with a lack of self-understanding and the Paleolithic obstinacy that led to our ruinous environmental practices, have brought us to where we are today.... You can remember it best by thinking of us as being a Star Wars civilization: We have Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions and God-like technology. That's the source of all of our problems.

Now, science and technology--combined with foresight and moral courage, both based from a more enlightened ethic, an educated one--has to see us through this bottleneck.... [We need to] identify the hot spots: Those are the areas that have the largest number of endangered species. The habitats in them are mostly endangered and have the largest number of endangered species that will go extinct if the habitat is allowed to be destroyed....

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Fifty percent of all the known species of vascular plants, and 42 percent of all the mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, are in those hot spots, which occupy about 4 percent of the land's surface. …

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