I wonder how much the front yard of my childhood home is worth. Of course, it's worth less now than before. Once, a stately tree stood in each corner: a tall lilac, a pine, a cherry tree, and a droopy evergreen. My favorite tree lived in the middle. I never knew what kind it was, but every spring it blossomed in delicate pink, and on warm afternoons, I read under its canopy. The front yard no longer looks like that, however. My father removed the lilac bush because it made the lawn too difficult to mow, and cut many of the branches from the pine and my pink-flowered tree so that friends could park their cars on our lawn rather than getting ticketed for parking on the street.
Eventually, my tree died from those wounds. But parking place or childhood haunt, what's my yard worth? In The Future of Life, Edward O. Wilson wonders the same about the whole Earth.
Wilson, an advisor to various environmental groups and an award winning entomologist, acknowledges that his work requires the preservation of natural habitats, but also clearly feels a deep love for the natural world and a deep sorrow for its destruction. The first half of The Future of Life discusses the ways humans have harmed the environment, culminating with the idea that (like my dad and the yard) we have never been good for the Earth. "The trail of Homo sapiens, serial killer of the biosphere, reaches to the farthest corners of the world." Stopping here, Wilson would make a powerful and persuasive statement, but also a damning and uninspiring one, and the time it takes to impart the lesson dulls its impact. Fortunately, he goes on to explore why this damage is a tragedy, even to an economically minded person like my dad, and how to remedy ou...
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...ve large areas of existing ecosystems, particularly rain forests. He argues that NGOs, effective as they have been, cannot save the earth by themselves, and emphasizes the need for greater government involvement. His ideas are firmly grounded in reality, however, and he acknowledges that "...local people with families to feed do not see the larger picture, and their needs cannot be met by a purely preservationist policy." Instead he advocates the economic exploitation of these ecosystems, but in a sustainable and ultimately non-destructive manner. His ideas and goals for the future show a balance necessary in any productive discussion about The Future of Life. If only he could have spoken to my dad about our yard.
Wilson, Edward O. The Future of Life. 2002: Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
Note: "Overyielding" appears as a single word in the text.
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