Future of Lifeby Edward O. Wilson
One of the world’s most important scientists, Edward O. Wilson is also an abundantly talented writer who has twice won the Pulitzer Prize. In this, his most personal and timely book to date, he assesses the precarious state of our environment, examining the mass extinctions occurring in our time and the natural treasures we are about to lose forever. Yet, rather… See more details below
One of the world’s most important scientists, Edward O. Wilson is also an abundantly talented writer who has twice won the Pulitzer Prize. In this, his most personal and timely book to date, he assesses the precarious state of our environment, examining the mass extinctions occurring in our time and the natural treasures we are about to lose forever. Yet, rather than eschewing doomsday prophesies, he spells out a specific plan to save our world while there is still time. His vision is a hopeful one, as economically sound as it is environmentally necessary. Eloquent, practical and wise, this book should be read and studied by anyone concerned with the fate of the natural world.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
“His book eloquently makes one thing clear: . . . we know what we do, and we have a choice.” –The New York Times Book Review
“The Future of Life makes it clear once again that Wilson is one of our most gifted science writers.” –The Washington Post
“[An] elegant manifesto. . . . [A] nuanced and evocative explanation of just why biodiversity matters.” –The New Yorker
“Wilson writes with a magisterial tone. . . . The Future of Life is the work of a man with deep convictions who is also utterly reasonable.” –Bill McKibben, The Boston Globe
“A critical report card for planet Earth, an urgent manifesto on global action, an eloquent plea . . . A literate, even poetic recounting of current scientific information that is readily accessible to lay readers. A more engaging and persuasive single volume on this crucial subject is difficult to imagine.” –Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“A no-nonsense appraisal of the problem of species extinctions and a pragmatic road map for renewal. . . . The Future of Life takes the reader on a fascinating and ultimately hopeful journey.” –San José Mercury News
“Our contemporary Thoreau, Wilson elegantly and insistently makes the case that to choose biodiversity is to choose survival.” –Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Wilson knows his subject too well. It behooves the rest of us to listen.” –San Diego Union Tribune
“One of the most clear-eyed pictures of how bad things have gotten.”–Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“The Future of Life offers an encouraging vision that solutions to the environmental problems facing humanity are within reach. . . . A refreshing change from the doom-and-gloom rhetoric that marked much environmentalism in the past.”–American Scientist
“A landmark new book.” –Houston Chronicle
“The biosphere’s Paul Revere defines the incalculable value and fragility of ‘the totality of life.’” –Outside
“Wilson is a member of an important but very rare species: the world-class scientist who is also a great writer.” –Nature
“A short book of breathtaking scope. . . . Wilson brings genuine authority to these weighty pronouncements.”–New York Observer
“[A] readable gem. . . . Wilson manages to avoid dark gloom while still cataloguing the damage we have wrought.” –Toronto Star
“Takes the reader on a fascinating and ultimately hopeful journey. . . . A concise primer remarkable in its breadth and clarity.”–Austin American-Statesman
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
A Letter to Thoreau
Excerpted from the Prologue
I am at the site of your cabin on the edge of Walden Pond. I came because of your stature in literature and the conservation movement. I came because of all your contemporaries, you are the one I most need to
understand. As a biologist with a modern scientific library, I know more than Darwin knew. I can imagine the measured responses of that country gentleman to a voice a century and a half beyond his own. It is not a satisfying fantasy: the Victorians have for the most part settled into a comfortable corner of our remembrance. But I cannot imagine your responses, at least not all of them. You left too soon, and your restless spirit haunts us still.
I am here for a purpose: to become more Thoreauvian, and with that perspective better to explain to you, and in reality to others and not least to myself, what has happened to the world we both have loved. . .
The natural world in the year 2001 is everywhere disappearing before our eyes--cut to pieces, mowed down, plowed under, gobbled up, replaced by human artifacts.
No one in your time could imagine a disaster of this magnitude. Little more than a billion people were alive in the 1840s. They were overwhelmingly agricultural, and few families needed more than two or three acres to survive. The American frontier was still wide open. And far away on continents to the south, up great rivers, beyond unclimbed mountain ranges, stretched unspoiled equatorial forests brimming with the maximum diversity of life. These wildernesses seemed as unattainable and timeless as the planets and stars. That could not last, because the mood of Western civilization is Abrahamic. The explorers and colonists were guided by a biblical prayer: May we take possession of this land that God has provided and let it drip milk and honey into our mouths, forever.
Now, more than six billion people fill the world. The great majority are very poor; nearly one billion exist on the edge of starvation. All are struggling to raise the quality of their lives any way they can. That unfortunately includes the conversion of the surviving remnants of the natural environment. Half of the great tropical forests have been cleared. The last frontiers of the world are effectively gone. Species of plants and animals are disappearing a hundred or more times faster than before the coming of humanity, and as many as half may be gone by the end of this century. An Armageddon is approaching at the beginning of the third millennium. But it is not the cosmic war and fiery collapse of mankind foretold in sacred scripture. It is the wreckage of the planet by an exuberantly plentiful and ingenious humanity.
The situation is desperate--but there are encouraging signs that the race can be won. Population growth has slowed, and if the present trajectory holds, it is likely to peak between eight and ten billion people by century's end. That many people, experts tell us, can be accommodated with a decent standard of living, but just barely: the amount of arable land and water available per person, globally, is already declining. In solving the problem, other experts tell us, it should also be possible to shelter most of the vulnerable plant and animal species.
In order to pass through the bottleneck, a global land ethic is urgently needed. Not just any global land ethic that might happen to enjoy agreeable sentiment, but one based on the best understanding of ourselves and the world around us that science and technology can provide. Surely the rest of life matters. Surely our stewardship is its only hope. We will be wise to listen carefully to the heart, then act with rational intention with all the tools we can gather and bring to bear.
Henry, my friend, thank you for putting the first element of that ethic in place. Now it is up to us to summon a more encompassing wisdom. The living world is dying; the natural economy is crumbling beneath our busy feet. We have been too self-absorbed to foresee the long-term consequences of our actions, and we will suffer a terrible loss unless we shake off our delusions and move quickly to a solution. Science and technology led us into this bottleneck. Now science and technology must help us find our way through and out.
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