Dr. Lovejoy's AIBS Plenary Address

STEVE YOUNG 703-235-5593 YOUNG.STEVE at EPAMAIL.EPA.GOV
Thu Sep 15 12:19:00 CDT 1994


          Following is the text of the plenary address given by Dr. L=
ovejoy=20
          at the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) ann=
ual=20
          meeting in August 1994.  Dr. Lovejoy sends his regards; we=
=20
          thought this might be of interest to list subscribers.  Ple=
ase=20
          pardon any cross-postings. Cheers,
         =20
               =09    Steve Young
               =09    young.steve at epamail.epa.gov
               =09    Smithsonian Biodiversity Program and
               =09    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
         =20
         =20
         =20
         =20
                        Will Expectedly The Top Blow Off? [1]
                              by Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy
         =20
         =20
               Five years ago - when the population was 5.0 billion=
=20
          compared to today's 5.5 - I spoke to the AIBS about environ=
mental=20
          trends and the imperative to make critical decisions in the=
=20
          current decade (Lovejoy, 1990).  Tonight provides an opport=
unity=20
          to review how successful we have or have not been.  On the =
face=20
          of the matter it doesn't look very good.  Trends in populat=
ion=20
          growth, atmospheric levels of CO2 and deforestation continu=
e=20
          largely unaltered.  To these one can now add the lugubrious=
 state=20
          of all major fisheries - as Hardy Eshbaugh expresses it, we=
 have=20
          clear cut the seas.
         =20
               Let us begin, however, by looking at the plus side of =
the=20
          ledger, and at the population issue which can overwhelm all=
=20
          others.  In September, sovereign states will meet in Cairo =
for=20
          the International Conference on Population and Development.=
  The=20
          population policy of this country has been totally revised =
into a=20
          humane proactive effort to bring human numbers under contro=
l. =20
          The President of the United States - for what I believe to =
be the=20
          first time in history - has made a strong policy statement =
even=20
          if ignored by the media.  The role and empowerment of women=
 are=20
          recognized as integral to any successful progress.  Arrayed=
=20
          against this are ideological forces which somehow manage to=
=20
          ignore the basic verity that abortion represents the failur=
e of=20
          family planning.  On the positive side we have learned that=
 there=20
          are ways to make progress through education, particularly w=
omen's=20
          education - and through the availability of contraception. =
 That=20
=0C=00
          is good news since we cannot afford the increase in human n=
umbers=20
          which would follow were we to wait for effects of the demog=
raphic=20
          transition operating through increases in standards of livi=
ng and=20
          declines in infant mortality.  As with many aspects of the=
=20
          environmental challenge to control human numbers we need to=
 work=20
          on several fronts simultaneously. =20
         =20
          [Footnote 1: Plenary address to the American Institute of=
=20
          Biological Sciences (AIBS) Annual Meeting, August 7-11, 199=
4]
         =20
         =20
         =20
         =20
               In the meantime the United States has reversed its awk=
ward=20
          stance on the Biodiversity Convention.  We have signed the=
=20
          convention despite its imperfections, and the ratification =
is=20
          before the entire Senate now that the foreign affairs commi=
ttee=20
          has voted 16-3 in its favor.=20
         =20
         =20
               In March the United States sent an entirely scientific=
=20
          delegation to the science meetings under the convention=
=20
          signalling the constructive outlook of the new policy.  In =
the=20
          United States we have not waited for ratification or formal=
=20
          international action before improving our national policy a=
nd=20
          actions with respect to biological diversity.  In 1993 the=
=20
          Secretary of the Interior created the National Biological S=
urvey=20
          to consolidate into a single agency the field biology work =
of the=20
          Department of the Interior.  This is an agency with a large=
=20
          agenda and precious little new funds and it has yet to rece=
ive=20
          appropriate statutory authority.  Nonetheless its construct=
ive=20
          scientific purpose is now better understood on Capitol Hill=
 and a=20
=0C=00
          first class ecologist -- Ron Pulliam -- has been recruited =
as the=20
          first Director.  The new agency has indicated from the outs=
et=20
          that it can only hope to succeed through broadly collaborat=
ive=20
          efforts within and without government.
         =20
               Indeed if anything is now clear, it is that we in the =
United=20
          States, but in fact human society generally, can no longer=
=20
          approach environmental problems in unrelated increments and=
=20
          fragmented jurisdictions.  Indeed institutional fragmentati=
on is=20
          as serious an environmental problem as habitat fragmentatio=
n. =20
          Nowhere is this clearer than in south Florida where the=
=20
          accumulation of decades of decisions, each of which appeare=
d=20
          reasonable in its own time and context, and each made by=
=20
          institutions and interests largely in isolation of one anot=
her=20
          has produced ecosystem degradation visible from space.  Sca=
rcely=20
          a drop of water of the famous River of Grass flows naturall=
y=20
          anymore, with ill consequences for south Florida, Florida B=
ay and=20
          the reef system off the Keys.
         =20
               The only possible way to address the problem is throug=
h an=20
          effort of collaborative planning and decision making which =
is=20
          hardly easy once matters have gone so far.  But there is no=
 other=20
          solution to what in the aggregate we now call ecosystem=
=20
          management, which when successful maintains ecosystem funct=
ion=20
          and maintains characteristic biodiversity.  That is a conce=
pt=20
          which has grown out of multiple roots but the essence of it=
 is=20
=0C=00
          just good common sense: that if one approaches management o=
f an=20
          ecosystem which is a large enough unit of landscape, and do=
es so=20
          early enough, multiple options provide inherently more=20
          flexibility for human aspirations to be met.  This is but o=
ne of=20
          many indications that we must move from thinking of nature =
as=20
          something which is set aside discretely for protection with=
in a=20
          human dominated landscape to thinking of human populations =
and=20
          activities as taking place within a natural landscape. =
=20
         =20
               Equally profound but perhaps of more interest to ourse=
lves=20
          as scientists is the emergence of _adaptive management_, wh=
ere=20
          management plans are designed as actual experiments.  Their=
=20
          results, their successes and their failures can thus be eva=
luated=20
          scientifically.  In a way this is a notion inherent in the=
=20
          Biosphere Reserve concept of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB=
)=20
          program.  The notion of a core area of undisturbed natural=
=20
          community against which one can compare the effects of=20
          manipulating a surrounding area makes good scientific sense=
. =20
          Indeed an adequate network of biosphere reserves becomes a=
=20
          national set of ecological standards.  In this context the=
=20
          importance of wilderness areas far transcends the experienc=
e that=20
          a limited few can enjoy within them, because these areas pr=
ovide=20
          the ultimate context for science and society to judge how t=
he=20
          biology of the planet is being managed. =20
         =20
               Biological survey, ecosystem management and adaptive=
=20
=0C=00
          management all presuppose better, more effective, more=20
          coordinated and more open science than United States govern=
ment=20
          programs have previously provided.  That is not to say that=
 there=20
          have not been some superb government science programs but a=
s the=20
          work of the National Institute for the Environment has note=
d it=20
          has been far too fragmented, uneven in quality and too impe=
rvious=20
          to outside evaluation.  These are problems that the Committ=
ee on=20
          Environment and Natural Resources operating under the Natio=
nal=20
          Science and Technology Council chaired by President Clinton=
 is=20
          designed to address.  There will be a more detailed present=
ation=20
          of the CENR tomorrow, but it is important to note that a na=
tional=20
          forum was held at the National Academy of Sciences in late =
March=20
          to assist in the development of a government wide strategy =
in=20
          these areas of science, and most recently the CENR Subcommi=
ttee=20
          on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics shared working draft=
s of=20
          the implementation plan with the Commission on Life Science=
s. =20
          That subcommittee has been particularly successful no doubt=
 in=20
          fair degree due to the advances in thinking within the scie=
ntific=20
          community represented by the Sustainable Biosphere Initiati=
ve and=20
          the Systematics Agenda 2000.  More important is that as som=
eone=20
          who sometimes thinks of life and work in the nation's capit=
al as=20
          a gigantic tableau of social primate behavior, I have never=
=20
          experienced less of a sense of territoriality between=20
          departments, agencies, subcommittees etc.  The ultimate tes=
t of=20
          course will be meshing the conceptual achievements of these=
=20
          documents with the reality of the budget process.
=0C=00
         =20
         =20
         =20
               Promising as these advances may be they nonetheless ap=
pear=20
          diminutive when compared to the unabated trends in populati=
on and=20
          environmental degradation and the glacial progress of the=
=20
          international multilateral environmental agenda.  The north=
 south=20
          positions are too ritualized and the rhetoric too generaliz=
ed and=20
          ideological for meaningful progress in relation to the actu=
al=20
          problems.  Particularly disturbing is a trend, exemplified =
by the=20
          science meetings under the biodiversity convention to subve=
rt=20
          science with politics.  It is essential for the scientific=
=20
          community to remain vigilant and vocal about the need for=
=20
          scientific assessment to proceed independently.
         =20
               Too frequently opportunities to make progress on=20
          environmental problems run aground on the shoals of north s=
outh=20
          posturing in which fingers are pointed at northern consumpt=
ion=20
          patterns (of which our own are amongst the very worst) and =
in=20
          which suspicions are raised that environmental concern eman=
ating=20
          from industrialized nations is really a stalking horse to p=
revent=20
          the developing nations from attaining their God given right=
 to=20
          development and higher living standards.  Why it is asked d=
o you=20
          (northern) nations point fingers at us about population gro=
wth=20
          when you are the ones consuming so much of the world's reso=
urces? =20
          There is something to those concerns of course, but as clea=
r as=20
          it is that 5.5 billion people cannot live an American lifes=
tyle=20
=0C=00
          it is equally clear that 5.5 billion people cannot live as =
hunter=20
          gatherers.  Both population growth and consumption patterns=
 are=20
          problems.  We simply have to recognize that consumption doe=
s not=20
          equate one on one with quality of life and that the consump=
tion=20
          patterns which might be labeled as yankee, occur in at leas=
t some=20
          segment of most countries in the world. The real point is t=
hat we=20
          urgently need to get on with solving these problems rather =
than=20
          engaging in deadlocking rhetoric, and that as important as =
the=20
          consumption issue is, it is fundamentally easier to deal wi=
th=20
          than additional population since there is an ethical impera=
tive=20
          for each individual to have some minimum level of quality o=
f=20
          life. =20
         =20
               As biologists we have something to contribute to this=
=20
          discussion and this agenda.  Firstly, generally speaking we=
 are=20
          more aware of the state of the environment than anyone else=
. =20
          Biological diversity is, after all, the most sensitive indi=
cator=20
          of environmental change.  Further it is in our direct inter=
est as=20
          scientists to be engaged because the biotic impoverishment =
of the=20
          planet automatically impoverishes the potential growth of t=
he=20
          life sciences.  Imagine the howls from astrophysicists were=
 it=20
          proposed to eliminate a number -- a large number, somewhat =
at=20
          random but including some of the most interesting -- of cel=
estial=20
          bodies. Biologists need to stand up and be counted.
         =20
               We also have an extraordinary amount to contribute to =
the=20
=0C=00
          main solution to the environmental crisis, namely sustainab=
le=20
          development.  While some consider sustainable development a=
n=20
          oxymoron, and while it certainly is if current patterns and=
=20
          trends continue, I believe it is abundantly clear that an=
=20
          important segment of sustainable development inevitably wil=
l be=20
          biologically based, indeed will be derived from biological=
=20
          diversity.
         =20
               I have made much in the last three years of the=20
          multibillions of dollars of economic activity deriving from=
 the=20
          enzyme from the Yellowstone hot spring bacterium _Thermus=
=20
          aquaticus_ described by Thomas Brock and which makes the=
=20
          polymerase chain reaction (PCR) possible.  This reaction so=
=20
          central to diagnostic medicine and forensic medicine (even =
the=20
          O.J. Simpson case) has already fed back into strengthened=
=20
          systematic science and population biology.  It also is esse=
ntial=20
          to the human genome project and all the incalculable potent=
ial=20
          that holds for human society.  Little wonder that Kary Mull=
is=20
          shared the 1993 Nobel Prize for chemistry for conceiving of=
 this=20
          reaction.
         =20
               Let us not forget that all this activity based on the =
PCR is=20
          possible because of science concerned with biological diver=
sity,=20
          because of biological collections (in this case the America=
n Type=20
          Culture Collection), coupled with the lucky accident that T=
homas=20
          Moran's watercolors inspired the Congress to set aside=20
=0C=00
          Yellowstone as the world's first national park for its scen=
ic=20
          value -- _not_ its biological diversity.  _Thermus aquaticu=
s_ in=20
          fact thus becomes an argument all in itself for biological =
survey=20
          and ecosystem management. =20
         =20
               Pursuing this further it is important to bear in mind =
that=20
          the molecular scissors -- the endonucleases -- that the gen=
etic=20
          engineers, biotechnologists and molecular biologists employ=
 for=20
          society's benefit derive from a biological diversity toolbo=
x.  In=20
          the end molecular biology and the ability to generate wealt=
h at=20
          the level of the molecule derive in significant degree from=
=20
          biological diversity.
         =20
               Exciting new science and practical application is deri=
ving=20
          from the study of microorganisms with weird metabolisms and=
 weird=20
          appetites.  Bacteria which can break down aromatic compound=
s and=20
          CFCs have been discovered in nature and along with similar=
=20
          oddities are part of bioremediation using biological proces=
ses=20
          for environmental clean-up.  Some feel bioremediation will =
have a=20
          short flush of success and then be largely supplanted when=
=20
          industries reduce pollution at the source.  I believe that,=
 to=20
          the contrary, bioremediation will be _used_ to reduce pollu=
tion=20
          at the source, and that as industrial ecology grows in=20
          sophistication and in practice, bioremediation in the facto=
ry=20
          will be used to make the waste stream of one industry accep=
table=20
          feedstock for another. =20
=0C=00
         =20
         =20
         =20
               Organisms and their enzymes are already being used in=
=20
          bioindustry to produce chemicals such as acrylamides.  Biol=
ogical=20
          processes for chemical manufacture eliminate the need for t=
oxic=20
          catalysts and in some instances high pressure processes.  T=
hey=20
          are cheaper and cleaner, and when a more effective enzyme o=
r=20
          organism is identified, there is no need to rebuild the fac=
tory=20
          to accommodate the substitute biological process.
         =20
               I also believe as biologists we have to find much more=
=20
          effective ways to engage with social science.  We "know" th=
e=20
          biosphere is ultimately run by biological processes largely=
=20
          driven by solar energy.  Economists "know" the world is lar=
gely=20
          driven by economics, money, supply and demand.  I believe w=
e=20
          should work together to integrate these two models.  There =
are=20
          interesting questions.  How should the American oyster popu=
lation=20
          of Chesapeake Bay be valued?  Is its value what it brings t=
o=20
          market as seafood annually?  Or is the value that the curre=
nt=20
          population filters a volume of water equal to the entire ba=
y once=20
          a year, and its value prior to degradation of the bay was t=
hat it=20
          filtered that same enormous volume once a week?  Our econom=
ies=20
          are riddled with such beneficial subsidies from nature whic=
h are=20
          not currently accounted for.  Similarly, our economies are=
=20
          riddled with subsidies and incentives which lead to environ=
mental=20
          degradation.  There is something akin to a Gordian knot her=
e=20
=0C=00
          which can only be unraveled by biological and social scient=
ists=20
          together.
         =20
               In the midst of the environmental crisis organismal=
=20
          biologists in particular are suddenly finding themselves mo=
ving=20
          from operating somewhat in the shadow of the laboratory sci=
ences=20
          to operating in the spotlight of world issues.  The trick h=
ere=20
          will be to accept that responsibility, to be willing to bri=
dge=20
          the gap (often a false one) between basic science and its=
=20
          application to societal problems.  We particularly have to =
avoid=20
          what often seems like selfish yammering for money for resea=
rch. =20
          While that _is_ a true need, a positive response from socie=
ty is=20
          far more likely to be attained if we are seen to be coming =
=66rom a=20
          stance of wanting to develop the information necessary to p=
roduce=20
          good public policy than if we sound like all we want to do =
is=20
          pursue our private and esoteric intellectual pleasures.
         =20
               At the same time we are probably nanoseconds away in t=
erms=20
          of graduate training time from recognizing that the toughes=
t=20
          limiting factor in addressing global environment problems i=
s=20
          available human resources in the environmental sciences=
=20
          particularly systematics and ecology.  Now is the time to b=
e bold=20
          and increase graduate training in these fields even before =
the=20
          specific jobs are in sight.  We also need to pursue ways to=
 use=20
          time of experts more effectively.  One way is to pursue the=
=20
          paramedic model as Costa Rica's INBio has with parataxonomi=
sts. =20
=0C=00
          Another is to push the frontier of interactive electronic m=
edia=20
          as has Australia's CSIRO.  They have produced a CD-ROM for=
=20
          example which in essence permits _anyone_ to key out any be=
etle=20
          larva to family or subfamily.  While creating these electro=
nic=20
          products requires a large specialist contribution, just lik=
e the=20
          expensive energy efficient lightbulb, the ultimate savings =
in=20
          specialists' time is staggering.  These products are essent=
ially=20
          redefining the boundary between the specialist and the amat=
eur, =20
          reserving the time of the specialist for those tasks for wh=
ich=20
          that person is uniquely suited, while empowering the amateu=
r and=20
          parascientist.
         =20
               There also is a tremendous challenge before us with re=
spect=20
          to education.  Part of this derives from the failure of our=
 much=20
          vaunted system of higher education to provide a minimum mod=
icum=20
          of understanding about biology and how it relates to our=
=20
          existence.  It is nothing short of scandalous that one can =
still=20
          graduate from most of our universities and colleges without=
 that=20
          rudimentary knowledge.  A basic knowledge of biology and it=
s=20
          implications for society are simply requisite to responsibl=
e=20
          citizenship.
         =20
               Even were it possible to rectify this failing very rap=
idly,=20
          it would not help the present citizenry make responsible=
=20
          decisions in the home or voting booth.  I think everyone of=
 us=20
          has a particular responsibility to help with public educati=
on. =20
=0C=00
          While there are some encouraging signs,  such as the prelim=
inary=20
          results of a study by the National Environment Education an=
d=20
          Training Foundation which showed that even for disadvantage=
d=20
          urban youth environment was one of their concerns, the=20
          discouraging reality is that probably 95% of Americans do n=
ot=20
          understand even something as simple as exponential increase=
.
         =20
               If that is the case how can we expect the American pub=
lic to=20
          understand the threat of biotic impoverishment and global c=
limate=20
          change and to support policy initiatives to address it?  Th=
ose of=20
          us in the scientific community have a special responsibilit=
y to=20
          explain these issues to the public. =20
         =20
          =09 to explain the importance of biological diversity and=
=20
          ecosystems to science, to society, to sustainable developme=
nt
         =20
          =09 to explain that artificially elevated levels of CO2 wil=
l=20
          undoubtedly cause ripples through the structure and functio=
n of=20
          biological communities because there is no reason to expect=
 every=20
          plant species to respond in the same way and degree
         =20
          =09 to explain that biological diversity largely surviving =
in=20
          landscapes as isolated natural areas is highly vulnerable t=
o even=20
          natural climate change because species will be unable to di=
sperse=20
          and track their requisite climatic conditions.
         =20
=0C=00
               Most important we need to explain that even though=
=20
          uncertainty tends to be measured more effectively in scienc=
e than=20
          other forms of human endeavor, that uncertainty is part of =
almost=20
          every kind of decision society makes.  We need to explain t=
hat=20
          rather than uncertainty as an excuse for a blas=E9 lethargi=
c=20
          approach to energy policy and green house gas emissions tha=
t _the=20
          real policy issue_ is whether we oppose, or favor by defaul=
t,=20
          total planet experiments that bet the biosphere where there=
 is=20
          even a small chance we may regret the result.  After all th=
ere=20
          isn't even an experimental control planet to repair to if w=
e lose=20
          at biosphere roulette.
         =20
               There is an important lesson from multilateral environ=
ment=20
          negotiations.  One stands out as particularly successful in=
=20
          producing prompt action, namely the Montreal Protocol deali=
ng=20
          with CFCs and the ozone layer.  One can argue that the prob=
lem=20
          was relatively simple and the solution clear and inescapabl=
e. =20
          Those familiar with international obligations assert that m=
ore=20
          important in making it work was a real sense of urgency.  I=
 would=20
          assert that until there is such a sense of urgency internat=
ional=20
          negotiation is likely to be dominated by short sighted self=
=20
          service rather than long term societal benefit.
         =20
               The real challenge is how we as biologists can create =
the=20
          same sense of urgency about biological diversity, climate c=
hange=20
          and human population.  These are problems that grow by incr=
ements=20
=0C=00
          which may not seem of particularly great consequence but wh=
ich in=20
          aggregate are disastrous.  No group other than biologists i=
s in a=20
          better position to make this case and make it eloquently.  =
It=20
          will be hard and maybe even impossible to make significant=
=20
          progress unless biologists enter the fray with greater ener=
gy and=20
          passion than we have so far.  How can we possibly do otherw=
ise=20
          with impending extinction rates projected at 10,000 times n=
ormal=20
          (May et al, in press)?
         =20
               My speech five years ago was entitled "Will, _unexpect=
edly_,=20
          the top blow off?"  borrowing from an Archibald MacLeish po=
em=20
          about a circus crowd so entranced by the show that nobody n=
otices=20
          until the entire big top of the circus tent blows off.  My =
thesis=20
          in part was that as environmental trend numbers grow large,=
=20
          social chaos and scrapping over dwindling resources will bo=
th=20
          ensue and thwart any possibility of remedial action - a not=
ion=20
          that was given some flesh in Kaplan's _Atlantic Monthly_ ar=
ticle=20
          earlier this year (Kaplan, 1994).
         =20
               Tonight it is appropriate to pose the question differe=
ntly:=20
          "Will _expectedly_ the top blow off?"  The answer, I believ=
e, is=20
          yes unless it is recognized that this is biology's moment i=
n=20
          history.  We biologists must recognize if first.  We need t=
o do=20
          it _now_.  _Now_.
         =20
         =20
=0C=00
         =20
         =20
          _Literature Cited_
         =20
          Lovejoy, T.E.  1990. Will unexpectedly the top blow off? Pp=
. 207-216 in _Greenhouse Glasnost: The Crisis of Global Warming_ (T.J=
.=20
          Minger, Ed.) The Ecco Press, Institute for Resource Managem=
ent,=20
          New York. 292 pp.
         =20
          May, R.M., Lawton, J.H. and Stork, N.E.  In Press. Assessin=
g=20
          Extinction Rates in _Extinctions Rates_ (J.H. Lawton & R.M.=
 May,=20
          eds.) Oxford University Press, London.
         =20
          Kaplan, R.D.  1994 The coming anarchy. _The Atlantic Monthl=
y_=20
          273(2), 44-63.




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