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104 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your future, your life
Edward Wilson is America's, if not the world's, leading naturalist. Years of field work are applied in The Future of Life in a global tour of the world's natural resources. How are they used? What has been lost? What remains and is it sustainable with present rates of use? With broad vision, Wilson stresses our need to understand fully the biodiversity of our...
Published on February 16, 2002 by Stephen A. Haines

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars WRONG TITLE, OVERFOCUSED, TOO OPTIMISTIC
Having learned a lot from other books by the author, I expected much from this one with its promising title. All the greater was my disappointment. This is a good mainstream discussion of the importance of biodiversity. But it suffers from three major faults.
The first is a misleading title. The book does not deal with the future of "life" because the future of...
Published 15 months ago by Yehezkel Dror


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104 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your future, your life, February 16, 2002
This review is from: The Future of Life (Hardcover)
Edward Wilson is America's, if not the world's, leading naturalist. Years of field work are applied in The Future of Life in a global tour of the world's natural resources. How are they used? What has been lost? What remains and is it sustainable with present rates of use? With broad vision, Wilson stresses our need to understand fully the biodiversity of our planet. Most importantly, that knowledge must include a realistic view of human impact on those resources. While many works of this genre sound tocsins of despair with little to offer in countering the threat of the "outbreak" of humanity on our planet, Wilson proposes a variety of realistic scenarios that may save our world and our own species. Survival will be obtained from a sound knowledge base, and the foundation for that insight starts here.
Wilson begins with an open letter to the patron saint of environment defenders, Henry David Thoreau. He offers a comparative view of today's Walden Pond with that of Thoreau's day. Wilson will use such comparisons for the remainder of the book. The issue is clear: humanity has done grave damage to its home over the millennia. The growth of human population, but more importantly, the usurpation of the biosphere for limited human purposes, threatens a world losing its ability to cope with the intrusion. Can this planet, with human help, be restored to biodiversity levels that will ensure its ongoing capacity to provide for us?
Wilson's writing skills readily match his talents as a researcher. Presenting sweeping ideas with an economy of words, he avoids vague assertions or the need for the reader to fill in information. With each stop of our global voyage in his company, he provides detailed information describing examples of human "erasure of entire ecosystems." At this pace, he informs us, we will soon require four more planets of our resource levels to sustain humanity's intended growth. In the classic tradition, he introduces a protagonist for continued economic growth debating an environmental defender. Both views can be accommodated, he assures us, but only if a population limiting bottleneck is achieved. What level of humanity can the planet endure? The numbers frighten, but the resolution, Wilson stresses, isn't inevitable.
Diversity, he argues, is the key. Even our agricultural crops can benefit. A mere hundred species are the foundation of our food supply, of which but twenty carry the load. Wilson counters this precarious situation by urging investigation of ten thousand species that could be utilized. Further, and this point will give many readers qualms, Wilson urges genetic engineering to apply desired traits between crop species. He urges these strong measures as a means of reducing the clearing of habitats to enlarge farming acreage. In conclusion, he stresses the application of ethical values in considering the environment. Each of us must make ourselves aware of our impact on our nest. If you are to survive, it may well rely on whether you read and act on the ideas in this book. Although other works on this topic are available, Wilson's stands above the others for clarity, scope and suggestions for survival. Are you, he asks, willing to add one penny to the cost of a cup of coffee to retain the world's natural reserves? It's the question confronting us all.
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68 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Future of Life, February 14, 2002
By 
Darrell Davisson (Tehachapi, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Future of Life (Hardcover)
I bought this book for a couple who felt that they were among a tiny minority who loved the beauty of this earth and were enraged at the criminally exploitative treatment of it. When I read the first chapter I could not put it down. This book is a must read for every sane person on the planet, a spectacularly clear and careful study of how things great and small fit together, interdepend on eachother. To disregard any part of it or abuse that living heritage, poses a threat to our very existence on the one hand and on the other, points to our interdependence. I was stunned to learn that most of the species have yet to be identified and catalogued. Wilson knows all the arguments of both extremes on environmental issues, and while he articulately addresses these with balance, reason, and knowledge that only a scientist of his calibre could do, he never looses the sense of joy and wonder over what he has discovered in his journey, nor the urgency to preserve and protect it. In the final chapter he offers realistic and visionary options for insuring a better world. This book is a masterpiece, a Virgilian guide away from the hell we are creating, the limbo we are in, and a view of the paradise we have been wontonly destroying.
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63 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical Manifesto for Preservation of *Value* in Nature, February 27, 2002
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This review is from: The Future of Life (Hardcover)
Whereas the author's last really big book, "Consilience", addressed the integral relationship between the knowledge offered by the humanities and that of the sciences (too often isolated and out of context), this book brings together political economy and nature.
It is more easily readable than his more heavily foot-noted and astonishingly deep earlier work, but all the more valuable for its smooth overview of why life on the rest of the planet matters to the American heartland; why we must deal with the limits of food production and control population (both in terms of numbers and in terms of consumption per capita).
The heart of the book, for me, can be found in three profound numbers--numbers that we must all appreciate:
Value of the Ecosystem/Cost to Replace: $33 trillion per year in increased Gross National Product (GNP)--and presumably everything would be artificially recreated.
One-Time Cost of Fund for Preserving Nature: $24-72 billion one-time funding. His numbers vary from $24 billion (one -time) to preserve 800,000 square kilometers already under protection, to $28 billion to preserve a (different?) representative sample. The bottom line: for a one-time $100 billion investment, 25% of what the US spends on its military *every* year, we could, at our own expense, save the world.
Subsidies for Unsound Acts Against Nature: $2 trillion per year and rising ($2000 per American alone--this refers to energy, water, deforestation, and agricultural subsidies that encourage and perpetuate unsound acts against nature as well as unneeded exploitation--one example: $20 billion a year in subsidies for fishing--this is the difference between the actual value of $100 billion and the lower subsidized revenues of $80 billion a year).
Wilson's book, in combination with those by Brian Czech and L. O. Stromberg, is in my view a capstone endeavor that moves the environment to the forefront of any intelligent person's agenda. As he concludes, we have entered the century of the environment--we must save it or lose it.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Situation desperate but not completely hopeless, May 23, 2004
This review is from: The Future of Life (Paperback)
The Future Of Life is a great book and a perfect antidote to: a) unwarranted optimism about the state of the environment, which by almost any measure appears desperate; b) unwarranted pessimism or fatalism regarding man's ability to DO something about this situation; and c) the reams of misinformation, uninformed opinion, and ridiculously wild-eyed optimism on environmental matters that exists out there (i.e., "The Skeptical Environmentalist").
Unlike The Skeptical Environmentalist, which is written by a statistician, The Future Of Life is written by one of the world's greatest living scientists, Edward O. Wilson, author of 20 books (including Sociobiology, and Consilience), winner of two Pulitzer prizes plus dozens of science prizes, and discoverer of hundreds of new species. Dr. Wilson is often called, for good reason, "the father of biodiversity." Wilson is also one of the rare breed of scientists, like Stephen J. Gould, Carl Sagan, and Stephen Hawking, who can actually communicate their thoughts and findings to the general public. This is particularly important when it comes to Wilson's area of expertise, given that the environment is something which affects all of us and which all of us can play a part in protecting (or destroying).
Wilson's main theme can be summed up as "situation desperate, but not hopeless." Why desperate? Because humans--all 6 billion of them--are the most destructive force ever unleashed on Earth. According to Wilson, humanity's "bacterial" rate of growth during the 20th century, its short-sightedness, wasteful consumption patterns, general greed and rapaciousness, ignorance, and technological power have resulted in a mass extinction: "species of plants and animals...disappearing a hundred or more times faster than before the coming of humanity," and with "as many as half...gone by the end of the century." Americans in particular are an environmental disaster, consuming so many resources (oil, meat, timber, etc.) per person that, according to Wilson's calculations, "for every person in the world to reach present U.S. levels of consumption with existing technology would require four more planet Earths." Well, we don't have four more planet Earths, and at the present time, we are well on our way to trashing the one we've got. In short, Wilson concludes after chronicling the sorry, depressing, nauseating history of man's mass slaughter and destruction of the environment, our species richly deserves the label: "Homo sapiens, serial killer of the biosphere.''
Given all this, how can I say that Wilson's book is not hopeless? First, because human population growth is slowing (finally!), as women gain education, careers, and power over their reproductive choices. Luckily, when given this choice, women increasingly have opted for "quality over quantity," and average family size has plummeted. In most advanced industrialized nations, in fact, fertility rates have now fallen below replacement level (2.1 children per woman), meaning that populations in those countries will actually start to decline (barring immigration) in coming years. Wilson points that the worldwide average number of children per woman fell from 4.3 in 1960 to 2.6 in 2000. This is still far too high, and still means years more of absolute human population growth, but it's at least a bit of hope amidst the environmental carnage and constant drumbeat of bad news.
Second, there is some hope because many humans do love the environment and want to preserve and protect it. Here, Wilson uses the fancy, scientific-sounding term "biophilia" to describe man's "innate tendency to focus upon life and lifelike forms, and in some instances to affiliate with them emotionally.'' In this instance, I believe Wilson may be overly optimistic. When confronted with the choice of a Big Mac or an acre of rainforest, let's say, most people appear to choose the Big Mac. Or when given a choice of driving their gas-guzzling SUVs and living in sprawling suburbia vs. driving smaller cars, living in cities, taking mass transit, and helping to prevent disastrous global warming, most people choose the SUVs and suburbia. Still, much of this is undoubtedly a result of ignorance and skewed economics (i.e., billions of dollars per year in government subsidies doled out to agriculture, fossil fuel production, wasteful water usage, among other things), and these can be corrected--at least in theory. Also, there are undoubtedly millions of humans who strongly care about the environment--whether for aesthetic, religious, ethical, "biophiliac," or other reasons--and are volunteering, donating money, or altering consumption patterns in order to help save it.
This brings us to the third reason for not losing all hope: humans have the ability to save the environment, and Wilson lays out a clear, realistic, step-by-step plan for doing so. Ironically, one of the very characteristics of environment which causes it to be so vulnerable --its concentration of biological diversity in a small areas ("hotspots") --means that it is possible to target that land and save it. Wilson estimates that biological "hotspots" cover "less than 2 percent of the Earth's land surface and [serve] as the exclusive home of nearly half its plant and animal species." In Wilson's calculations, those "hotspots" can be saved "by a single investment of roughly $30 billion." Just to put this in perspective, the U.S. gross domestic product is over $10 trillion, or more than thirty times the $30 billion needed to save the "hotspots."
The Future Of Life ends on a note of cautious optimism: although right now we find ourselves in a "bottleneck of overpopulation and wasteful consumption," Wilson believes that the race between "technoscientific forces that are destroying the living environment" and "those that can be harnessed to save it" can be won. In order for this to come to pass, however, humanity needs to take action immediately along the lines that Wilson lays out. Ultimately, The Future Of Life is a passionate, brilliant, clarion call to arms by a great scientist, and a great man as well. If we don't hear Wilson's call, we will have only ourselves to blame. And whichever way things turn out, we can't say we weren't warned.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All the talk about diversity; it's biodiversity that matters, February 3, 2002
This review is from: The Future of Life (Hardcover)
Forget the nattering about cultural and religious diversity. Edward O Wilson makes a strong and compelling argument that biodiversity should take pride-of-place as the pre-emininent subject of discussion. THE FUTURE OF LIFE should be the topic that the diversity industry concentrates on.
The substantive subject here however is not the scientific underpinnings of adaptation, evolutionary psychology and sociobiology in general, nor does this book go into the moral and political debates surrounding these topics. It's a refreshing break from the 'Science Wars' and the concomitantly fought, but larger, 'Culture Wars.' A refreshing break yes, but this book is by no means breezy or full of cheer. You may very well come away depressed - how else can it be when the subject is man - "the serial killer of the biosphere." In the end though there is some room for cautious optimism.
The litany of woes is well known - destruction of tropical rainforests, overpopulation, pollution, desertification, and massive loss of plant and animal species. Indeed science is generally in agreement on the fact that we are in the midst of a Great Extinction event. They've been others. This is THE SIXTH EXTINCTION (as Richard Leakey put it a few years ago), but it's the first since hominids arrived, and as Wilson says [we have] "accelerated the erasure of entire ecosystems and the extinction of thousands of million-year-old species." Wilson wrote about this previously in THE DIVERSITY OF LIFE but it seems to me, he is following on from CONSILIENCE (where he offered a sythesis of knowledge) by reaffirming that for mankind today, what we know (and equally as important, what we do not know) about the environment is the only knowledge that really matters. He says "perhaps the time has come to stop calling it the 'environmentalist' view, as though it were a lobbying effort outside the mainstream of human activity, and to start calling it the real-world view."
Since we've not yet got that vision, the next best thing is to start using the sort of sythesis thinking that Wilson offers here. Economics is the science of rational man, so in appealing to reason, not emotion, Wilson blends biology with economics and shows the costs associated with a depleted environment. He mentions some "ecosystem services" such as pollination of crops, pollution control, climate control, and water purification, and mentions that a 1997 study by economists put the value of these services at $33 trillion per annum. A partial loss of even some of these naturally occurring, and therefore free facilities would severely disrupt our economic activity, and more importantly, we could never afford the replacement costs. He builds on this emphasis with examples of its practical applicability. "In 1992 a pair of economic botanists demonstrated that single harvests of wild grown medicinals from two tropical forest plots in Belize were worth $726 and $3,327 per hectare respectively, with labor costs thrown in. By comparison, other researchers estimated per hectare yield from tropical forest converted to farmland at $228 in nearby Guatemala and $339 in Brazil."
Although economics as practiced through industrialization and globalization is a large part of the problem, it must also be involved in the solution - "[making] conservation profitable." This book forces us to confront a dismal recent past and a less than rosy immediate future, but Wilson nevertheless ends on a guardedly optimistic note. He offers solutions such as immediate protection of the worlds most sensitive ecosystems or "hotspots", a ban on logging of old-growth forests and mapping of the worlds biodiversity resources.
Wilson does tangentially bring up his pet theory of sociobiology and briefly discusses our genetic wiring as a non-forest dweller as a partial cause for our antipathy towards wilderness. In the end though, the book is a direct appeal to our ability to change based on past environmental experiences, and Wilson demonstrates a philosophical belief in man's spiritual connectedness to nature. It's a sythesis of knowledge and life. It's actually the sort of view that his old scientific rivals - Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin - would probably offer a nod to. It will be interesting to see how they receive this book. Consensus possibly? Maybe biodiversity is indeed all that really matters.
"The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment" (Gaylord Nelson)
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vision of a radical "conservative", February 2, 2002
By 
Autonomeus (a world ruled by fossil fuels and fossil minds) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Future of Life (Hardcover)
E.O. Wilson is one of my heroes. He is radically sensible, and has advocated positions that have drawn the wrath of both the left (sociobiology) and right (environmentalism). "The Future of Life" is a continuation of Wilson's earlier "The Diversity of Life." It is an eloquent diagnosis of our planetary situation, along with an optimistic vision of the future, and should be required reading. Here are some quotes to give you the flavor:

"We are inside a bottleneck of overpopulation and wasteful consumption. If the race is won, humanity can emerge in far better condition than when it entered, and with most of the diversity of life still intact." (xxiii) "The choice is clear: the juggernaut [of technology-based capitalism] will very soon either chew up what remains of the living world, or it will be redirected to save it." (156) "The central problem of the new century ... is to raise the poor to a decent standard of living worldwide while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible." (189)

Wilson's diagnosis is grim, his analysis radical, and yet he is optimistic that these lofty goals can be attained without structural transformations of the social system. He believes that the combination of democratic governments, capitalist economics, and advanced technology can save the planet. Of course that is no endorsement of the status quo! Radical change is necessary, but Wilson is confident that it can take place "within the system." The ace up Wilson's sleeve is the increasingly influential network of non-profit NGOs (non-governmental organizations), groups such as the World Wildlife Fund.

The message of "The Future of Life" is that there is a huge job to be done, but it is doable. Let's get to work!
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incites one to action, April 8, 2002
By 
This review is from: The Future of Life (Hardcover)
... I had read at least one other by Wilson, and knew him for a brilliant scientist, an articulate writer and a person of strongly held beliefs. In this book I also learned of his passionate support of the environment. I am not that often stirred to action by a book, but this one was truly an eye opener. Several conservationist organizations are listed, and I book-marked their web sites in order to start making donations to them. ... Many of the organizations were those to whom I'd donated to in the past, mostly because it seemed like the right thing to do. Their importance had fallen by the wayside over the years as I dealt, like many people, with the financial exigencies of my own life. Wilson's book pointed out that the environment is as intimately a part of my own well being as my finances.
The Future of Life, as I had expected, is a well written narrative of life as it has evolved on our planet and of the dangerous phase through which it is now passing. The lovely bouquet of endangered and extinct species depicted on the jacket of the book and individually named on pages ix-x of the introductory text is a touching testimonial in itself of what has been lost and of what may yet be passing away in our own life time. Creatures who have not even been yet catalogued by man, may already be poised on the brink of extinction.
The book describes the evolutionary basics of life on Earth, and its amazing spread to every corner of the globe, even to great depths of earth and ocean. In describing our living extremophiles, those beings tolerant of the most difficult environments, the author points out their significance with respect to the beginnings of life here and to it's possible existence elsewhere in the universe, even perhaps in interstellar space. ...A disturbance of one part of the ecology of the planet will not leave the other parts of it untouched. This is the case whether it is a major change in oxygen saturation in the oceans, the green house gases created by the construction of the Deccan Traps in India, or an asteroid impact that sets the world ablaze. ...Despite the dismal prognostication of Malthusians even as early as Darwin's time, it has been a generally held belief that any problem, even environmental ones, could be overcome by the combined offensive of science and technology. Our own ingenuity will save us in the eleventh hour. For many this is still the basis of their decisions. Wilson illustrates for the reader just why this cannot be the case, and why the task of the 21st Century will be to put the environment first. He catalogues the many ways in which the heavy demands placed upon it to achieve mankind's goals have already led to significant depletion of resources. Technology, in giving a minority of the world?s population a comfortable lifestyle has created a gulf between the haves and have nots of the world, marginalizing a significant portion of the world?s people. As he points out, to achieve the goal of giving the entire human world a similar lifestyle would require several earths to accomplish it.
Although it is overall a pessimistic book, it offers solutions that would solve many problems world wide and at a minimal cost to each person. This is one very important book. It needs to be read widely, and it's suggestions put into practice. Read it and hit those websites with your donations!
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a prescription to get through the bottleneck, October 7, 2002
This review is from: The Future of Life (Hardcover)
In this book, Harvard professor E.O. Wilson presents useful, practical suggestions that address the current global crisis involving overpopulation, wasteful consumption, and unprecedented loss of biodiversity.
For example, Wilson points out that roughly $30 billion (about 1/1000th of the annual combined GNP of the world as of 2000) can preserve for future generations critical habitats containing about 70% of the Earth's plant and animal species. Contrast this with about $110 billion spent annually by governments to subsidize fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
Wilson is correct in pointing out that the question of the century is: How best can we shift to a culture of permanence, both for ourselves and for the biosphere that sustains us? This is something new in human history. He points out that for hundreds of millennia those humans who worked for short-term gain within a small circle of relatives and friends lived longer and left more offspring .... the long view that might have saved their distant descendants required a vision and extended altruism instinctively difficult to marshal.
The book also contains a wealth of fascinating information about our world. E.g. Only three plant species stand between humanity and starvation: wheat, maize, and rice .... yet at least 10,000 plant species can be adapted as domestic crops. New World amaranths, arracacha of Andes, and winged bean of tropical Asia are immediately available for commercial development... e.g. If a small and otherwise unknown animal encountered in the wild is strikingly beautiful, it is probably poisonous; and if it is not only beautiful but also easy to catch, it is probably deadly.. e.g The vast majority of cells in your body are not your own: they belong to bacterial and other microorganismic species.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A high-calibre primer on environmental conservation, September 7, 2002
By 
Bryan Erickson (Eagan, Minnesota) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Future of Life (Hardcover)
It�s refreshing to read an environmental diatribe where the writer has both the authority of a world expert and a willingness to compromise to pursue realistic solutions. Wilson � a Harvard biology professor, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and a director of the Nature Conservancy � presents a succinct evaluation of the great ecological issues of our day, focusing on the rapid pace of species extinctions, and on the promise of finding a balance between conservation and human activity that will bring the extinctions to a halt.
Future begins with a fascinating overview of life itself, its awesome diversity, its adaptation to the most extreme environments on Earth, and even the possibility of life on Mars, Europa, Callisto, and elsewhere in the Universe. From this perspective of life in the grandest scheme, he turns to the current pace of extinctions due to human activity, depletion of water, crop, and fish resources, and frames a debate with a hypothetical opponent who is more concerned with economic growth than the environment. This hypothetical opponent is a representative of the �juggernaut of technology-based capitalism� (p. 156), and is portrayed as reading The Economist. However, Wilson recognizes that economic and technological growth cannot be reversed, and instead are the best hope to continue relieving poverty and disease throughout the world. Instead he seeks out a way for �its direction [to] be changed by mandate of a generally shared long-term environmental ethic� (p. 156) to which everyone�s opinion can converge. Wilson points out diplomatically that economists also recognize value in the natural environment, and conservationists enjoy driving to national parks in combustion-engine cars.
To further his tone of optimistic compromise, Wilson finds hope in the slowdown and projected stop in human population growth, in environmentally friendly legislation and treaties, and in conservation methods that also produce proven economical value, such as ecotourism and bioprospecting for medical products. Wilson even concedes that genetically modified foods, though requiring further study, may contribute to environmental conservation by making agriculture more productive and allowing greater human nutrition to be produced from less cropland, and reducing dependence on chemical pesticides.
Wilson�s conciliatory tone ends with his professed admiration for the WTO protestors of Seattle and Genoa. He marks the low point of the book by echoing the left-wing polemic that global income disparities contributed to 9/11. He also lapses a few times into the poorly reasoned hyperbole that often erodes the conservationists� credibility. For instance, on page 39 we read of ��the United States, whose citizens are working at a furious pace to overpopulate and exhaust their own land and water from sea to shining sea.� Yet, Wilson points out on page 30 that population growth in the United States is now due only to immigration, and that the non-immigrant population of the United States has achieved practically zero growth. In another instance that is more esoteric, but sloppy for an expert on biological history, Wilson suggests humans are the first species to alter the environment on a global scale: ��Homo Sapiens has become a geophysical force, the first species in the history of the planet to achieve that dubious distinction.� This neglects vast influences that have been exerted on the global environment by past life, including the production of all of our oxygen and nitrogen � together constituting 99% of the Earth�s atmosphere � and the eradication of almost all of the carbon dioxide, which is thought to have formed most of the primitive Earth�s atmosphere, just as it still composes over 95% of the atmospheres of Earth�s neighbors, Mars and Venus.
On the other hand, Wilson�s detailed account of different species that have recently gone extinct or are down to just a few individuals shows good reason to be disturbed. The current rate of extinctions is in the range of the greatest mass extinctions on record, including the K-T impact event that eliminated the dinosaurs and many other life forms 65 million years ago. Wilson outlines what he calls the bottleneck of the next century or so � the efforts, or lack thereof, of our generation will make an indefinitely large difference in the future biological heritage of the Earth.
Future is most valuable for presenting a comprehensive road map for environmental remedy. In perhaps the most compelling prescription, Wilson urges an end to perverse subsidies, whereby governments use taxpayer money to finance economically wasteful activity that also destroys the environment, to cater to special interests, or the economically discredited idea of �strategic industries.� An example of this is the massive subsidies Germany pays to its coal mines, theoretically to protect the miners� jobs, but also supporting an operation that is not only not profitable in the free market, but also the single greatest source of global environmental degradation. Wilson goes on to offer a summary of sources of value in biodiversity, some of it not yet realized, and recommends economically valuable drivers for ecological protection. He also identifies twenty-five �hotspot� ecosystems that together cover only 1.4 percent of Earth�s land surface, but are �the last remaining homes of� 43.8 percent of all known species of vascular plants and 35.6 percent of the known mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.�
Analyses such as these make it possible for policymakers and other actors to cooperate with conservationists in carrying out conservation efforts according to reasoned priorities, something that cannot be done where conservationists offer nothing more than an undistinguishing, blanket opposition to any development. The Future of Life provides an ideal, scientifically authoritative, well documented, and absorbing primer on the essential issues of environmental conservation, and a concise but vital guide for shaping or understanding environmental policy.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars WRONG TITLE, OVERFOCUSED, TOO OPTIMISTIC, April 22, 2013
By 
Yehezkel Dror (Jerusalem Israel) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Future of Life (Paperback)
Having learned a lot from other books by the author, I expected much from this one with its promising title. All the greater was my disappointment. This is a good mainstream discussion of the importance of biodiversity. But it suffers from three major faults.
The first is a misleading title. The book does not deal with the future of "life" because the future of humanity is not discussed. This is a great pity. Humanity is moving through a phase-jump, acquiring the unprecedented ability to terminate its existence, to change its core attributes, and perhaps to clone itself and also to create life. These "gifts" of science and technology are fateful, also for human action on endangered species. Therefore the problem with the book is not only a misleading title, but missing a variable critical for its actual concern.
This leads the second error, namely quite some tunnel vision. Not only is the future of humanity ignored, but the future of the climate is not discussed despite its profound significance for the biosphere, directly and indirectly. If temperatures and sea levels rise they impact on many species and their habitats, including "hot spots" of species diversity. And climate changes will constitute heavy stressor on humanity which will unavoidable receive priority over other biosphere concerns.
The third fundamental mistake is the mood of optimism, especially pronounced in the last chapter. All the describe species preserving activities, however important, are inadequate, determined government action being essential as clearly recognized by the author. But such action depends on politics. Here the author becomes utopian, assuming that democratic public pressures and activities of NGOs based on a widely accepted pro-nature ethos will cause political leaders to give species preservation high priority.
Public pressures do demand action to reduce visible pollutions and other glaring environmental damages. But, given a global culture of consumerism and the propensity of human being to be mainly concerned with the short range, mentioned by the author as probably hardwired by evolution, no determined large-scale species-preserving action can be realistically expected to result in the foreseeable future from public pressures.
The example given by the author of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea as a candidate for being made into a "wildlife sanctuary of a future unified Korea" (p. 185) demonstrates that he misapprehends geostrategic realities. And the trust he puts in neurosciences to help humanity to "anticipate and step away from political and economic disasters" (p. 156) casts further serious doubts on his outlooks.
All this serves to reinforce my view that being an outstanding biologist and naturalist and the ideas of sociobiology and consilience are not enough of a basis for dealing with the realities of humanity. More is needed for designing effective humanity-craft policies - however urgently needed, including for species diversity preservation as ably discussed in this book.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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The Future of Life
The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson (Paperback - March 11, 2003)
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