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E.O. Wilson on the Importance of Biodiversity
The famous biologist discusses his life's work in conservation and his efforts to save the ecosphere.
Edward Osborne Wilson is an American biologist (Myrmecology, a branch of entomology), researcher (sociobiology, biodiversity), theorist (consilience, biophilia), and naturalist (conservationism). Wilson is known for his career as a scientist, his advocacy for environmentalism, and his secular humanist ideas concerned with religious and ethical matters.
A Harvard professor for four decades, he has written twenty books, won two Pulitzer prizes, and discovered hundreds of new species. Considered to be one of the world's greatest living scientists, Dr. Wilson is often called "the father of biodiversity," (a word that he coined). He is the Pellegrino University Research Professor, Emeritus in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He is a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism.
E.O. Wilson: In my long life, actually I'm 85 years old, I've been through a lot of different worlds, mostly biological worlds and parts of the natural world and the like. And what I'm coming increasingly to concentrate on in whatever time I have left is the natural world and the necessary means that we have to use to save it. There are about two million species of plants, animals and microorganisms that we know about, that scientists have found, diagnosed, given a description of and a scientific name, two million almost exactly at the present time. The actual number of species in the world is estimated at roughly eight million species, maybe eight to ten. We don't know. Most of the natural world, most of nature, much of the living part of the environment is unknown to us. And of those species that we know, the two million, we only know the lives, lifecycles and the biology of only a tiny fraction. And of that tiny fraction that we know something about we know just a tiny fraction again of how they interact with other species. We are living in and dependent upon a world, a biosphere in which we evolved and to which we are exquisitely well adapted in every part of our body and our mind, razor thin that biosphere within which we and our fellow organisms live without going into submersibles or space suits. And we are destroying a large part of it.
The rate at which species are going extinct, this is the consensus order of magnitude, I've estimated, others have estimated different ways and so on working in this field of extinction, the rate at which species are going extinct is on an order of magnitude a thousand times faster than what species were, how fast they were going before the coming of humanity. We're hemorrhaging the world's biodiversity. People know that but they just don't seem to grasp what this means. What this means is that the living shield, just from their point, the human point of view, the shield of living organisms that maintains the environment is close to or exactly what humans need, because we evolved as one of them, is being shorn away. We estimate that the number of species of existing unimpaired at the end of the century would be just somewhere around one half. One half will be gone or on the brink of extinction at this rate of extinction.
There are ways to stop this and I think we're going to have to start talking about big changes in how much of the earth's surface we put aside for nature just to keep it from going extinct in a very short period of time. And I'm in a group of scientists working very hard on that part right now, this is what I'm focused on and I hope we might even see what some of the solutions will be, but here's one last interesting point. Just as our salvation is aided by an unintended consequence of women who get any economic freedom stop having children, that is they drop having the children number below zero population growth, which is a very good thing for an overpopulated world right now. In other words we don't have to enforce or persuade much more people to have fewer children, what we need to do is to move as much of the world population into the middle class with women's freedom. We could reach, well this is the United Nations projection, we could reach eight to ten billion by the end of the century and then the population begins to subside.
What about consumption? Many people would say well, you know, eight/ten billion people that still means that we're going to eat up the rest of the world so there's still a lot. No. Not at all. There's something called the ecological footprint. That's the amount of land required for each person on average to live at whatever level of life humanity is reaching for or has acquired for the amount of land for habitation, for food, for governance, for transportation, the whole thing, maybe scattering pieces around the world but we can measure it and it has been measured. And so the theory would be that's growing, is it not, because of increased per capita consumption. And that makes even with the population slowing and receding the rest of life would be gone, right? Wrong. No.
With modern technology, and think about it, everything in the current innovative techno-scientific evolution that society is going through is producing an ever smaller footprint. Why? Because people buy - the whole economy is increasingly techno-scientific and being directed at making things lighter, smaller and more effective in energy consumption. And it happens then, and this is something I need, I think the economists should be measuring and thinking about. What then important is as human economic activity increases world wide it is, at the same time it seems to me, I have discussed this with some experts and they seem to agree, this is an extremely important principle, that what we're doing in the modern scientific techno-scientific digital hyper-connected age is shrinking the ecological footprint. Believe it or not. That could be, and we need measurements taken, that could be the solution of the whole thing. Because if we give more to nature to hold onto that shield and the living part of the environment, it can be done and I believe it can be practical because of the shrinking ecological footprint. Just a thought.
Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton
Edward O. Wilson claims that the biosphere is incredibly delicate and without a change in behavior we will irreversibly destroy the biodiversity on the planet.
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.
- Outplacement is an underperforming $5 billion dollar industry. A new non-profit coalition by SkillUp intends to disrupt it.
- More and more Americans will be laid off in years to come due to automation. Those people need to reorient their career paths and reskill in a way that protects their long-term livelihood.
- SkillUp brings together technology and service providers, education and training providers, hiring employers, worker outreach, and philanthropies to help people land in-demand jobs in high-growth industries.
Source: McKinsey Global Institute analysis [PDF]<p>Work in understanding the skills at the heart of the new digital economy is leading to novel assessments that allow individuals to prove mastery to faithfully represent their abilities—but also to give weight and stackability to the emerging ecosystem of micro-credentials that make education more seamless across time and education providers. And we are seeing the beginnings of a renewal in the liberal arts, focused on building human skills in affordable ways that are accessible to many more individuals and far more effective.</p><p>Amidst these dark times, there is much opportunity to refresh the nation's education and training solutions to support the success of individuals and society writ large.</p>