Two perspectives on the biosphere.

By Dave Armstrong - 09 Nov 2014 18:25:0 GMT
Two perspectives on the biosphere.

It is wrong to choose just one species to represent conservation, but the turtles are among the most unique and the most threatened of all How much longer will be we be able to touch the largest chelonian, before their unique lifestyle disappears, along with all the others we have destroyed? Change is certainly needed among those who can create enormous directional modifications to this mad flight to self-destruction, and it is needed right now. touching the turtle image; Credit: © Shutterstock

Julia Marton-Lefèvre and EO. Wilson are 2 people you probably aren’t aware of. That is because they are, respectively Director General of IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) for 8 years, and Pulitzer Prize-winning sociobiologist and renowned evolution and ant expert! Not exactly the pop world. They share one great criticism this week of the world’s politicians and technologists. While one criticises the lack of logic in politicians’ behaviour towards conservation of resources, the other suggests that ethics are needed for a solution to the same problem: unless we save other species, then our own is doomed to extinction too.

Professor Wilson has a science-centric way of thinking that deludes the non-scientific. Politicians believe him to be egocentric, unless they are scientists themselves. On the other hand Julia Marton-Lefèvre is able to state that 9bn people need to gain their food, water and shelter from the protected places she wants politicians to be much more aware of. Without fish, for example, much of the coastal population will starve. Yet only 3% of marine life is protected, compared to 15% of land species. Here is the beleaguered leatherback turtle in last year’s update about just one glittering failure in marine life protection. We would question whether diplomacy or straightforward logic would suit a world in which we need much more conservation, both nationally and on an international and cooperative basis.

You can read much more on the current publications and conferences with which this ageing professor and this vigorous, somewhat-younger lady are involved. Julia, if she will forgive us using her name can be found in the Guardian and elsewhere, representing the IUCN at the decadal World Parks Conference in Sydney. Edward (“the prof”) officially retired in 1996, so he has a more relaxed tour of what he mistakenly calls the mother country, selling yet another book he’s written, The Meaning of Human Existence, but also promoting a Dorset Memo (Mass Extinction Monitoring Observatory) to 860 extinct species since the dodo in 1662. The newspaper covering this epic event is The Times with King of the Ants.

The Director General is more diplomatic when she states that the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are unlikely to be attained in 2020. She is simply not optimistic that commitments can be met. She herself is stepping down this year - hopefully not retiring yet, either! Her organisation are fighting poachers in particular but politicians too. Her agreement with the professor is reasonable to assume. It isn’t about the love of birds and butterflies; it’s about our survival. We need to behave better towards our planet and behave better towards each other.

In other words, economic growth is useless if all the forests are gone. They are needed alive and still standing, as habitats and food sources, just as the marine forests are! With only 25% of protected areas managed at all well and half of our most biodiverse sites totally unprotected, the pessimism she feels is reasonable. Between $45bn and $76bn will be needed just to manage the poachers (and the politicians), but this is only 2.5% of global military spending. It is an old argument that never worked, but it’s always worth mentioning.

Of the IUCN Red List’s 73,686 species, 22,103 are classed as threatened. With EO. Wilson adding the extinct 860, that leaves a helluvalot more work to do for those of us remaining. His 50 years of earnest and thoughtful work have left him believing technology will not rescue us from the mess we have created. Our emotions and our institutions are ill-fitted to the task of changing the world around. We must save the environment but new technologies are the only route by which the organisms and their habitats can provide us with a healthy biosphere.

Whoever has the better argument, we certainly need them both. The people who make up this world are unfortunately responsible for the other species and the whole biosphere. It is up to those with this knowledge and this experience to lead us to new conclusions about action. And I am sorry, time is up for us all, given the warmings, the droughts, the floods and the tears.