After loaning one of my favorite books for environmental conservationism to a friend, I realized that I have never put up a post referencing this book. For a blog covering this topic, not mentioning Edward Wilson’s <The Future Of Life is a mistake.
As always, Wilson’s writing is poignant, and he marshals a formidable body of evidence (and downright common sense) to assess the state of our environment in an age of mass extinction and shrinking habitats. The crux of the book’s message can be conveyed by quoting the opening to the concluding chapter, “The Solution”:
What humanity is inflicting on itself and Earth is, to use a modern metaphor, the result of a mistake in capital investment. Having appropriated the planet’s natural resources, we chose to annuitize them with a short-term maturity reached by progressively increasing payouts. At the time it seemed a wise decision. To many it still does. The result is rising per-capita production and consumption, markets awash in consumer goods and grain, and a surplus of optimistic economists. But there is a problem: the key elements of natural capital, Earth’s arable land, ground water, forests, marine fisheries, and petroleum, are ultimately finite, and not subject to proportionate capital growth. Moreover, they are being decapitalized by overharvesting and environmental destruction. With population and consumption continuing to grow, the per-capita resources left to be harvested are shrinking.
This, I think, is the land ethic (or land-use ethic, more appropriately) that Aldo Leopold referred to some sixty years ago. But Leopold was speaking from conscience. In his book, Wilson speaks from the cumulative studies of the decades following Leopold’s conservationism, with specific strategies that follow the best knowledge of managing and preserving natural resources (and biodiversity).