Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"When all else fails, men turn to reason."

I was enthralled by the interview with E. O. Wilson on Bill Moyers Journal last week. Wilson is an old school naturalist; his insights come from close observation, most notably of ants, about which he wrote the definitive book. When he does turn his attention from minutia to the wider world, he thinks and writes with a clarity that blows the cobwebs from one’s mind. Few scientists have done as much to increase our understanding of our place in nature.
Wilson inspired the creation of the fledgling Encyclopedia of Life, which eventually will catalog every known living species. A sample page describes Kiwa hirsuta, better known as the yeti crab:

Wilson’s 1992 book, The Diversity of Life, soberly describes the ways in which humanity threatens countless species, a danger he compared to the famed meteorite that is thought to have led to the dinosaurs’ extinction:
Well, 65 million years ago, this now is pretty well established, Earth was struck by an unusually large meteorite, off the coast of what is now Yucatan. And even though that may have only been about ten kilometers across, its power -- when it struck the world -- caused gigantic tsunamis over a large part of the world. It rang the Earth's surface like a bell. Volcanic eruptions occurred. Clouds formed over the Earth that dropped, knocked out the sun and greatly reduced photosynthesis. A majority of species of plants and animals died. And among the groups that died out finally and conclusively at that time were the dinosaurs. So -- what we are doing if we don't take care of the living environment, then we're going to go -- start, by the end of this century, getting pretty close to the impact of that -- big meteorite 65 million years ago.
Wilson has created his own foundation, the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, devoted to the study and preservation of the natural world.
More than anything else he said, this comment from the interview with Bill Moyers struck home with me:
You know, I like what Abba Eban once said during the 1967 war. He said, "When all else fails, men turn to reason."

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