With anti-environmental thinking dominant in many of the north American corridors of power and now in Brazil too, it is perhaps more important than ever for us to be familiar with the facts of environmental conservation as perceived and related by those with expertise in the subject. E.O. Wilson is one such expert. (View website)
So here’s another informal review of a book that I think should be on every environmentally-conscious person’s reading list, and certainly on every Southerner’s,”Half Earth” — by Edward O. Wislon. Anyone familiar with his earlier “Diversity of Life” book will know Wilson for one of the world’s best conservation biologists and one of the people who have had a very positive influence over the recent paradigm shift in favour of sustainable development.
In that earlier book Wilson draws attention to the astonishingly rich biodiversity of this Holocene epoch, in comparison with all the preceding ages in the history of planet Earth, outlines the development and composition of that diversity in very comprehensible terms and teaches both the fundaments and importance of ecology that supports this great web of life. Growing up as a young naturalist in Alabama with unusually acute vision in his remaining eye, Wilson was able to minutely examine many of the small creatures that help facilitate and enable life on Earth for the rest of us. He made me aware of the ecological relationships and interdependences that interplay on a daily basis in nature providing trophic and atmospheric support for life on Earth. In short he convinced me that it is the rich variety and quantity of living micro-organisms, animals and plants interacting together that make life as we know it possible and that we may well have to preserve the nine out of ten animals and plants that most of us humans just don’t care about in order to support the ten percent, including our own species, that we do care about.
In Half Earth Wilson updates our understanding of the ecological crisis and adds more recent scientific discoveries to our understanding of ecology including some simply stunning information about the balance of life in our oceans and the huge biodiversity in the tidal zones. I’ll never feel quite the same again when taking in a mouthful of sea water at the beach!
Focusing on the potential for positive action he also examines some biodiversity hotspots around the world, places that are particularly worthy of saving, including the very biodiverse natural long-leaf pine communities within the southern Gulf states, and lucidly presents a persuasive argument that we can still preserve much of global biodiversity and improve our own quality of lives by compacting our living space to within half of that which is totally available on Earth and effectively preserving the other half of the Earth for the other 99.99999999 etc. % of living things that are wild, i.e. undomesticated.
There we have the premise in a nut-shell — as humans most of us are currently witnessing and participating in the broad-scale, rapid and irreversible unravelling of life’s great tapestry and with it the thread of our own species’ survival will be limited. However our main strength as a species is adaptation and thus there’s hope not merely for survival but for improved quality of life for humans and wildlife if we can concentrate our living space and give due space to the ecology that supports our lives. Have a look the interactive map on his website to view biodiversity by segment.
The world is undergoing a rapid process of urbanization and at the same time the better urban centers are ‘greening up’and becoming healthier living environments and residents more environmentally conservative and concious. We can’t afford not to consolidate our civilization centers and enjoy the benefits that arise from proximity, energy and resource saving, greater ease of services provision, transportation, production and distribution of goods and security.
Humans didn’t evolve as lonely individuals, or in socially dysfunctional isolated family units, but in communities that were thoughtful of each others’ needs and sensitivities, that cared for each other with individuals proud to contribute skills and resources within their communities, and with intergenerational interaction as the norm, from watching each others’ backs to teaching knowledge and skills to the next generation.
My own thinking is that paradoxically there may be greater freedom and quality of life to be had, for more people, in well-designed and intelligently connected housing communities and urban centers with civic pride and an evolved service ethic, than in houses spread out all over the countryside, and that could well be the pattern of the future.
No-one has paid me for writing this article.