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since Homo sapiens is now living largely on its inherited capital and in the future will have to depend increasingly on its income (NPP), one can argue persuasively that the size of the human population and the scale of human activities should be gradually reduced below present levels. Reducing that scale will be an especially difficult task, since it means that the environmental impacts of the rich must be enormously curtailed to permit the poor a chance for reasonable development.
Although improvements in the technologies used to support human life and affluence can of course help to ameliorate the extinction crisis, and to a limited extent technologies can substitute for lost ecosystem services, it would be a dangerous miscalculation to look to technology for the answer (see, for example, Ehrlich and Mooney, 1983). In my opinion, only an intensive effort to make those improvements and substitutions, combined with a revolution in attitudes toward other people, population growth, the purpose of human life, and the intrinsic values of organic diversity, is likely to prevent the worst catastrophe ever to befall the human lineage. Curiously, scientific analysis points toward the need for a quasi-religious transformation of contemporary cultures. Whether such a transformation can be achieved in time is problematic, to say the least.
We must begin this formidable effort by increasing public awareness of the urgent need for action. People everywhere should understand the importance of the loss of diversity not only in tropical forests, coastal zones, and other climatically defined regions of the world but also in demographically delineated regions such as areas of urbanization. The geological record can tell us much about catastrophic mass extinctions of the past. That, and more intensive studies of the living biota, can provide hints about what we might expect in the future. At the present time, data on the rates and direction of biodiversity loss remain sparse and often uncertain. As a result, estimates of the rate of loss, including the number and variety of species that are disappearing, vary greatly—in some cases, as pointed out by E. O.Wilson in Chapter 1, by as much as an order of magnitude. Moreover, scientists have also differed in their predictions of the eventual impact that will result from the diminishing biodiversity. Some aspects of these challenges are explored in the following five chapters comprising this section and are reflected throughout this volume.
Ehrlich, A.H. 1984. Nuclear winter. A forecast of the climatic and biological effects of nuclear-war. Bull. At. Sci. 40(4):S1–S15.
Ehrlich, P.R. 1986. The Machinery of Nature. Simon and Schuster, New York. 320 pp.
Ehrlich, P.R., and A.H.Ehrlich. 1981. Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. Random House, New York. 305 pp.
Ehrlich, P.R., and H.A.Mooney. 1983. Extinction, substitution, and ecosystem services. BioScience 33(4):248–254.
Holdren, J.P., and P.R.Ehrlich. 1974. Human population and the global environment. Am. Sci. 62:282–292.
Peters, R.L., and J.D.S.Darling. 1985. The greenhouse effect and nature reserves. BioScience 35(11):707–717.