When Charles Darwin published "The Origin of Species" he declared it to be "one long argument". Today, less than 150 years later, Edward O. Wilson explains that the one species omitted [except for one sentence] from the "argument" is devastating the life of the planet. In one long appeal to a fictional Baptist pastor, Wilson describes what is clear to all but a few dedicated die-hards - life on this planet is in deep trouble. The die-hards are firmly identified in the opening passages; Christians in the US who regard themselves as "biblical literalists". Such folk expect the Apocalypse soon and saving the environment is of little concern.
Wilson clearly knows his potential audience and addresses it. He understands the opinions his readers hold and addresses them in language familiar to them. "Biology" he contends, "now leads in reconstructing the human self-image". That means that biology can explain what is happening to the life around us and how we are dealing with it. He carefully allows the potential for a deity to have a role, but it isn't one dealing with the current situation. Because it is humanity stripping the rainforests, causing the oceans to warm and destroying life in them, or filling the atmosphere with chemicals it cannot absorb, it is up to people to take the steps necessary to halt these degradations.
In showing his "pastor" the interconnectivity of all life, the author utilises clear, undemanding prose. Whether one believes a god plays a role in this network is immaterial. People and their actions are unweaving that network. Species extinction is forever, and whatever biology can explain, it hasn't had the time or opportunity to assess the impact of what is occurring. The job, he says, is clearly too vast, and the relationships are too intricate. That, however, doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Nor does it mean that lack of knowledge renders the problem something we can dismiss. We ignore the result of our actions at our peril.
Going a step further in his analysis, Wilson notes the planet's rash of environmental "hotspots" that need immediate solutions addressed to them. He's even able to put a price on healing the afflicted areas. He proposes forms of "protective umbrellas" that can be applied to areas like the Amazon and Congolian basins and others. These saving mechanisms would require "one payment of about US$30 billion". That's about 15 weeks of current expenditure on Iraq's occupation at the latest rates. He further shows how the subsidies given the fishing industry in the US alone, if redirected to a programme of oceanic reserves, would allow fish stocks to recover. To ensure the survival of countless threatened species, it's a minimal expence. If humans can set themselves up as gods in destroying the environment, they can act creatively to preserve it.
Wilson's "letter" may seem a bit lengthy at 170 pages, but as "one long appeal" to his audience, it's not overmuch to take up. Take it up and read it. Then have your children read it - they are the ones confronting the future Wilson describes. The offer it to the pastor nearest you. Religious leaders have whole flocks who should hear what Wilson has to say. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]