"The two major challenges for the 21st century are to improve the economic situation of the majority and save as much of the planet as we can."
|Edward O. Wilson
Edward Osborn Wilson is working to merge evolution and faith in a desperate attempt to save the planet from what he calls the sixth extinction, the greatest catastrophe to hit earth since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
This passionate scientist feels that we are in the midst of this sixth extinction, which, left to its own devises, may clear the planet of 30 to 50 percent of its current species over the next century. But unlike the extinction periods of the past, this one can be attributed to human activity, and likewise, offers the hope that this impending disaster might be curtailed if humans promptly change their behavior.
Praised by some and criticized by others, primarily religious fundamentalists, Wilson, better known as E.O., has boldly treaded upon the taboo topic of evolution for decades, both to educate the public on the science he holds to be true, and to save humans from, well, themselves.
He feels that regardless of where one lies in the religious or non-religious spectrum, the goals for the planet should remain the same: to protect the current biodiversity of both habitats and species and to improve the economic situation of the majority of the earth’s population.
Wilson feels that, amongst other things, human overpopulation is the key factor to the devastating equation, and blames it for loss of habitat, pollution, over-harvesting, and even climatic change and the introduction of invasive species. He feels that, in addition to overpopulation, the general behavior of many of the planet’s inhabitants has led to overuse, or better yet, abuse of resources, and that this “gluttonous” behavior is “crushing the planetary life-support systems.” Again, the boldness of his words and his stance on sociobiology, "the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior," have often led to harsh criticism, but Wilson has fervently pressed on, in hopes that science can help save the planet.
|E.O. Wilson on the Pascagoula River
It all started in Mobile, Alabama when Wilson, now 77, was a young teen. His natural curiosity and love for the outdoors led him to want to become an entomologist (one who studies insects). He soon began to survey all the ants in Alabama and through this process, came to discover the first known colony of ‘fire ants’ in the United States. His curiosity and natural intelligence would continue to blossom over the years, so much so that Wilson would eventually come to be regarded as one of the world’s foremost authorities on ants, amongst other things. He was also the first to discover that ants use pheromone for communication, and would eventually compile this and other important findings in several publications.
Eager to continue his study of insects, Wilson attended the University of Alabama upon graduating high school, a feat which he had originally felt might not be feasible as his family could not afford a university education for him. Nevertheless, he received both his B.A. and M.S. degrees from UoA and thrived so much there that he was accepted, and eventually graduated from, Harvard University, the prestigious institution where he has taught ever since.
Currently an honorary curator in entomology and university research professor at Harvard, he has shifted his focus from the more controversial sociobiology to ecological concerns, and the impact that human activity has on the planet.
His work in science and conservation has garnered him scores of awards and commendations -- from the U.S. Medal of Science in 1976, to the Crafoord Prize - the highest award given in the field of ecology - in 1990, to a spot on Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential People in America in 1995, amongst others, Wilson’s work has been recognized around the globe. Most recently Wilson was chosen as the 2007 recipient for the coveted TED prize which offers the unique award of having one wish which will serve for the betterment of humankind granted.
In addition to his 20 previous works, two of which, 1978’s On Human Nature, and 1991’s The Ants have earned him Pulitzer Prizes, Wilson most recently penned "The Creation, An Appeal to Save Life on Earth," as an attempt to peaceably bridge science and faith, specifically the literal belief in the Bible versus the scientific belief in evolution, in hopes to save the planet.
While some within the theological community have yet again rejected his appeal, others have joined him in his crusade to save the planet from the hands of humankind, and are joining the scientific community in calling for habitat and species protection, education, and preservation.
Knowing that time is of the essence, Wilson remains a tireless crusader for the environment, a soldier in the battle to save the planet from what may be its greatest threat yet: humankind.
And to think, that for Wilson, it all started with a love of bugs.