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In the Light of Evolution: Volume II—Biodiversity and Extinction
been fully restored to earlier historic levels. The concept has resonance, because not only is it scientifically instructive, but also it directly relates to the availability of a food resource vitally important to humans. Likewise, arguments that relate biodiversity to land use (Foley et al., 2005) not only illuminate basic scientific principles concerning the necessary interaction of species in providing habitats rich in resources, they also provide useful options for agriculture that achieve a balance between providing productive cropland and sustaining biodiversity. Biodiversity science, collecting, surveying, identifying, classifying, mapping, and analyzing species, of course provides the important database for all these arguments (Wilson, 1992), but the public recognition of the importance of this work is elusive without themes that address more familiar issues.
Such themes then offer a chance to respond to the frequent question raised by people: Why should we care? The framework for the answer to this question was established some time ago by Ehrlich and Wilson (1991), namely, (i) we have, as Earth’s dominant species, an ethical and moral responsibility to protect diverse life; (ii) biodiversity has conferred enormous economic benefits to humans in the form of foods, medicines, and industrial products; and (iii) species are the working parts of natural ecosystems that provide the essential services necessary to sustain life. We can use this framework to develop examples of messages that might more effectively intersect with current public attitudes.
The Ethical, Moral, and Aesthetic Argument
Because biodiversity is also synonymous with nature enriched, it appeals to what might be characterized as more noble human qualities; ethical and moral responsibilities; altruistic concern for our future generations and companion creatures; and aesthetic responses to the wonder, beauty, and tranquility of nature. As noted above, surveys show these motivations are strongly influential in raising public appreciation for biodiversity and concern for its erosion. Developing messages that draw on these instincts, what E. O. Wilson (1984) originally coined as “biophilia,” the human need and love for nature, can only be advantageous. In museum exhibitions dealing with biodiversity, for example, the first step is often to place people in a stunning environment, one that reminds them of the beauty and wonder of nature, as a way of telling them what is at risk. A multipoint proclamation for a biodiversity agenda is not a way to greet visitors. A diorama of a rain forest or a wall displaying the extraordinary diversity of life forms is a more effective gateway. Some of the most effective television and film programs, such as the Discovery Channel 2007 series Planet Earth (Weprin, 2007), that speak to biodiversity themes use a similar approach in reinforcing the biophilia of viewers.