THE FUTURE OF LIFE by Edward O. Wilson


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Never one to shrink from the Big Picture, Harvard antman Wilson (Consilience, 1998, etc.) addresses the decline and fall of species but sees the potential for the survival of biodiverse life on earth if . . .

. . . we do the right thing. But first comes the lugubrious recital of the status quo. Wilson regulars know the tune—so many creatures great and small, with losses of species at a rate of one thousand to ten thousand per million a year. To his credit, Wilson explains how such estimates are made, while admitting that no one really knows the denominators: how many species there are. The malady is familiar as well, even has an acronym: HIPPO, for Habitat destruction, Invasive species, Pollution, Population, and Overharvesting—all revealing the hand of Homo sapiens. Wilson singles out Hawaii, Madagascar, Vancouver Island, and other defined sites to provide convincing details. But just at the point of reader despair, he turns the tables to offer solutions. Here, he draws on theses he has defended elsewhere: e.g., “biophilia,” defined as humankind’s innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike forms, attracts us to our fellow creatures. Wilson’s reliance on instinct, on developmental stages that hone biophilia, and on certain heritable factors have him out on speculative limbs he has pursued previously. His political and economic arguments for preserving biodiversity are more persuasive, dwelling on how much a well-preserved nature gives back in the form of diverse food, medicine, clothing, shelter, etc. That, and an increasingly rich and more savvy group of international conservation organizations may save the day, he suggests. Their savvy lies in buying reserves, plowing money back into the local economy, and allowing peripheral communities to draw (modestly) on the reserve, while encouraging bioprospecting and ecotourism. While these solutions are promising, Wilson does not really grapple with how to stem the tide of overpopulation—and the religious, sociopolitical, and economic imperatives that maintain it.

So an A for laying out the situation, a B for partial solutions, but an Incomplete for not addressing the fundamental problem.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 2002
ISBN: 0-679-45078-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2001


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