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E.O. Wilson On Humanity, Survival And Nature

Famed biologist E.O. Wilson says the way to save mankind is for the Age of Man to come to a close with a new respect for the rest of life. He joins us.

With guest host Jessica Yellin.

A giant spider in Zambia's Gorongosa National Park. (Piotr Naskrecki)

A giant spider in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park. (Piotr Naskrecki)

Imagine wandering into a house overrun with fang-toothed spiders. Riding a helicopter deep into an unexplored gorge of granite and limestone to find new species.  World-famous naturalist and biologist E.O. Wilson did all that — in his 80s.  In one of Africa’s most biologically diverse nature preserves in Mozambique.  And he says the wilfife there has powerful lessons for us humans.   This hour, On Point, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning biologist  E.O. Wilson on what he learned about mankind in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park.


E.O. Wilson, biologist, researcher and naturalist. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Author of many books, including the new “A Window On Eternity: A Biologist’s Walk Through Gorongosa National Park.”

From The Reading List

The Atlantic: E. O. Wilson’s Theory of Everything — “If one had to give E. O. Wilson a single label, evolutionary biologist would be as good as any. Sociobiologistlifelong naturalistprolific authorcommitted educator, and high-profile public intellectual might all also serve. But amidst his astonishing range and volume of intellectual output, Wilson’s reputation, and most of his big ideas, have been founded primarily on his study of ants, most famously his discoveries involving ant communication and the social organization of ant communities. ”

Christian Science Monitor: A Window on Eternity — “Wilson tells the story of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, which boasts one of the densest wildlife populations in Africa. During a civil war that lasted from 1978 to 1992, much of the park ecosystem was destroyed, and its future seemed bleak. Some animal populations within the park declined by 90 percent or more. But then a wealthy American entrepreneur, Gregory C. Carr, launched an audacious effort to bring the park back to life. Slowly, the park is returning to its original state.”

The Wall Street Journal: E.O. Wilson Tells It Like It Is — “Dr. Wilson has a boy’s enthusiasm, and he revels in discovering new species at Gorongosa. But as the power of science and technology grows exponentially, he worries that people are giving up on preserving nature. Many seem to have resigned themselves to the idea that ‘we’ve already overrun the world,’ he says.”

Read An Excerpt Of “A Window On Eternity” By E.O. Wilson

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  • northeaster17

    Mr Wilson, We are changing the world around us quickly. In many ways that are not for the better. Do ants exhibit this kind of behavior, do they recognize it and if so what do they do about it.

  • andrewgarrett

    No one is going to voluntarily kill themselves or their children, so a huge part of preserving biodiversity this century will be to devote relatively less area to agriculture. We will have to continue to increase yields using many tools, including – I know it’s scary – GM crops.

    • Human2013

      Good point! According to wiki, 33% of land surface is devoted to agriculture. Meanwhile, we have 214,000 acres being chopped down everyday.

      • JS

        And we are running out of dirt, seriously.

        • andic_epipedon

          I am a soil scientist. We are not running out of dirt, but there are different qualities that the dirt possesses by its properties and location on the landscape. There are endangered soils. We have severely decreased prime agriculture land because we like to put buildings on them. We can and have severely degraded the quality of the soils we use.

          • JS

            Exactly. I got the term from the book:

            Dirt: the Erosion of Civilizations by David Montgomery.

            He maps out how ancient civilizations collapsed after there soil was too poor to support the populations. Basically agriculture leads to surplus food, which leads to population growth, which leads to increased agriculture, until eventually poor soil management leads to decreased agriculture yields, and then population collapses or moves on.

          • andic_epipedon

            Then you know it is extremely difficult to grow crops in the Middle East and we can no longer use it for agriculture. If we destroy places and then move on, we will eventually run out of places to trash.

          • JS

            Absolutely. Except the Middle East was once the “Garden of Eden”, until they ran out of dirt! By which I mean they degraded their soil enough that they couldn’t support the Babylonian Civilization any more, if I remember the book correctly.

            Now, if we left it alone for a few centuries, then the soil could regenerate and we might have some hope.

          • andic_epipedon

            Maybe…global climate change notwithstanding.

          • JS

            All it will mean is different soil in a different place, in a few centuries. The problem is the impact on civilizations during those centuries.

    • nj_v2

      GMO crops are no more productive than conventional crops. There are no techno-magic bullets.

      Thorium nukes won’t save us. Genetically engineered crops won’t save us. Fracking every last bit of ancient gas won’t save us.

    • andic_epipedon

      Birth control is still a great option. Having only one or two kids would save the world a lot of heartache. GM crops are not the only way and some GMO crops are worse that others. I believe pesticide resistant crops are dangerous with the scariest proposition being that it might be leading to bee colony collapse. I am optimistically cautious of other tools. Increasing yields is one of many things we can do, but there are other options available. The goal to simply increase yields has resulted in contaminated aquifers, insects that are pesticide resistant, populations that are further at risk because they are dependent on GMO patented products, bee colony collapse, soil exhaustion and water availability issues. Yield alone is a somewhat dated concept. We need to accept imperfections in our food, be smarter about where our food comes from, grow some of our own if we can, utilize new technologies is greenhouse and irrigation technologies, and yes allow geneticists to mess around as they have since Mendel, but put an end to pesticide resistant varieties.

  • Bill Anderson

    Dear E.O.: My perspective toward all life changed after my girlfriend rescued an injured dragonfly. Although she merely extended its near death, I watched in amazement as she fed the dragonfly ants with tweezers. As a nature lover, I felt in adequate in my passion toward natural life, regardless of size (note: the ant diet complicates the story), something that has diminished over time.

    Do you have any advice/thoughts on establishing and maintaining this connection with any and all life around us?

  • Yar

    We have a theological issue which is related to how we care for our environment because we tend to think of heaven as someplace different than here on earth. We need to see earth as our responsibility, and work to create a sustainable planet. Is the earth really a single organism?

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Herr Professor Wilson. Please tell us that ants survive humanity’s flirtation with global heating.* Thanks much. HLB

    * There are no warming engines in thermodynamics.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB
  • Coastghost

    How much does eco-tourism itself contribute these days to environmental degradation? Flying to another side of the globe to marvel first-hand at some pristine natural environment seems hardly a responsible undertaking, given what we’re told about impairment of the upper atmosphere by jet exhaust.

    • Yar

      The Al Gore argument, intended to shut down anyone advocating for change. You are a sinner therefore don’t speak about climate change. False dichotomy!

    • andic_epipedon

      Give me a break. When eco-tourism results in a significant portion of global warming I’ll look into it. The average person cannot afford eco-tourism and the average eco-tourist doesn’t do more than one or two trips a year. Meanwhile we are pushing large cargo ships from China, having business people travel on a weekly basis all over the world and trucking huge volumes of material across the country when there are closer places to get the same material.

      • Coastghost

        Don’t leave out our celebrity class of perpetual jet-setting actors, musicians, composers, dancers, orchestras, painters, writers, sculptors, architects, photographers, filmmakers, artists.
        Don’t leave out our academics perennially on pilgrimage to conferences and conventions.
        Don’t leave out our professional athletes and their populous entourages.
        Don’t leave out our journalistic fraternity, whose constant dire warnings over technogenic climate change are rendered null and void with their appetites for travel and electricity consumption.
        Don’t leave out our dedicated scientists and technologists whose grand advice and stellar recommendations gave and helped give us technogenic climate change.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Does Professor Wilson think it a good idea for White House political operatives to be revising, editing, and in some cases, expunging whole sections from reports and studies by engineers and scientists? That’s what’s happening now with the new climate report due to be issued later this week.

    • Don_B1

      That is definitely what happened during the Bush administration; but I suspect that what is happening now is trying to get wordings that the majority of countries can sign up to.

      It is unfortunate that the result will be a less strongly-worded document that will not declare some of the latest data on how badly climate change will impact human life.

      But it is much different that what went on in the Bush administration where known facts were actually denied, not just not emphasized.

    • http://www.google.com Big Brother

      The fact of human overpopulation is proven by the fact that we keep having less and less people in the world

      global warming is proven by the temperature going down. until revisions prove that it is going up.

      • Isernia

        Grammar mistake, big brother – fewer and fewer people. not less and less.

        • jefe68

          That’s how trolls roll…

        • http://www.google.com Big Brother

          I am watching you.

  • Coastghost

    Is human intelligence (so-called) inherently pathological or perniciously hypertrophic?
    Is the scientific enterprise inherently pathological?
    The sciences and applied technology have given us many if not most of the threats and challenges we face today globally. Why persist in trusting the sciences implicitly, given their role in creating many of the problems that threaten us all?

    • The poster formerly known as t

      The problem isn’t science, it’s human psychology. Humans, like all other souless animals, are driven by unconscious urges that result in the maximum amount reproduction, consumption, and last but not least, social dominance.

      • Coastghost

        If as you say humans are soulless, we have no “human psychology”, no logos of the psyche (soul). I know that some scientists and philosophers entertain the notion that “mind” (dianoia) is also a fanciful construct, leaving us only with our neuropathies and deranged synapses, which of course is to leave us altogether ill-equipped.

  • adiggins

    If we found living creatures on another planet or moon we would be amazed by them and work hard to not disrupt their lives or destroy their habitat. Why can’t we manage to view our own planet and its precious animal species with their unique cultures and their environmental needs for survival the same way??

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Oh, yes.. science & technology will save us. Like parents cleaning the rooms of their children. Someone or something is going to bail us out. Thank goodness we don’t have to do anything ourselves.
    Signed.. Registered Professional Electrical Engineer

  • Coastghost

    “Can: the categorical imperative of the sciences and applied technology.”
    Simple technical ability has become the moral motive of our sciences.
    Why not insist upon a “new bargain” with our overweening sciences: curtail your ambitions until you recognize the shortcomings of your moral and intellectual pretensions.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    What a joke: President Obama flying around the world with his 4- plane entourage lecturing everyone on the evils of global heating. You just have to laugh at the foolishness of some educated people.

    • northeaster17

      For an electrical engineer your ability to descend into silly attacks on someone who’s responsibilities drawf yours is just too sophomoric.

  • http://www.google.com Big Brother

    E. O. Wilson advocates reducing the human population to 2 billion. I vote that he volunteers to go first.

    • jefe68

      Troll alert.

  • http://www.google.com Big Brother

    Climate change is a just a talking point. Part of the reason the human population is so large is because people, like E. O. Wilson, are living too long. Then he advocates massive “human population reduction.”

    Ah, the hypocracy.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      Yeah, that pesky reality keeps intruding on your world view.

    • nj_v2

      Troll much?

      • jefe68

        The troll is rolling along…

    • andic_epipedon

      Wilson has only one child. Can you say the same?

      • http://www.google.com Big Brother

        I have 8 kids and 15 guns.

        • andic_epipedon

          The guns are fine, but you need to take out at least 6 of your kids.

  • TheDailyBuzzherd

    George Carlin said it best:

    “The planet is fine. The PEOPLE are ( not ).”

    Honorable Mention:

    The book, “TechNOfix”

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Noah’s ark is in the park. Tours hourly. Right next to the dinosaur cages.

  • Bigtruck

    It is great that people have “opinions” and “feelings” but at some point the ignorant should yield to experts. People that actually get out of their lazy-boys and perform science.
    I would much rather have a licensed pilot fly the jet that I’m on than some guy that has a “feeling” that he knows how a plane works.

    • Yar

      Your point?

      • Bigtruck

        1. Reading comprehension needs more focus in our schools.
        2. The ignorant should yield to experts.

        • jefe68

          Again, your point is what exactly?
          That E.O. Wilson is not an expert?

          • Bigtruck

            The ignorant…

  • adiggins

    Yes, yes, yes to wildland corridors!! Thank you, E.O. Wilson!

  • http://www.google.com Big Brother

    when will a politician use the idea that the earth is overpopulated to justify turning the Crimea into a human free zone?

  • http://www.google.com Big Brother

    the angels to come and reduce the human population

    please ask this geezer a hard question about the implications of his overpopulation theories

  • Yar

    When we started burning fossil fuels we left nature and became a parasite living off the carcass of a dying planet.

    • http://www.google.com Big Brother

      you are welcome to stop

      • Yar

        Working on it!

        • http://www.google.com Big Brother

          reusable bags, bicycles, and solar panels won’t do anything to slow carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. you have been sold a bill of goods.

          for earth day, I drove 75 miles each way to return a 5 cent can in an SUV

          • Yar

            And you are proud of that? What do you believe? Do you think it is wrong to try to improve our environment? Do you think it is wrong to pass laws that slow climate change?

          • http://www.google.com Big Brother

            if you were a fish, you’d bite on a stick.

          • Yar

            Your point is to do nothing, and I disagree with that dogma. So we disagree, I still wonder why. Is it theology? Is it political? Is it lifestyle? Why do you believe what say?

          • northeaster17

            His point is not to do nothing. It is to attack antagonize and divert.

          • JS

            Please do not feed the trolls

          • Ray in VT

            I wish that I had that kind of money to burn, but I wouldn’t even if I did.

    • andic_epipedon

      So negative. Are you talking about when man discovered fire, when man discovered agriculture, when man discovered industry, when man discovered the automobile, when man discovered Walmart or some other point? I don’t think the planet is dying yet, just really stressed out.

      • Yar

        No, I am really talking about now. Unless we decide to move away from fossil fuel we are doomed. In April CO2 levels hit 400 parts per million. We don’t have to kill ourselves with fossil fuel pollution, but we don’t seem to know how to change our ways. Is going to take a major crop failure before we see the light? We are changing the planet faster than we can adapt. Major fossil fuel consumption is only started in the last couple of centuries. I am not intentionally negative, I am just saying we should wake up and work together for positive change.

  • TyroneJ

    The bottom line is that humans will keep breeding until we collapse the Earth’s environmental systems. Then there will be a huge human die off. The real issue then will be that when the dust settles, humans will probably not be extinct.

    • Coastghost

      Tyrone: might you be an optimist?

      This link points up one extra-terrestrial threat that persists, among many others (our very life-giving Sun itself poses distinct threats of its own):


    • andic_epipedon

      Perhaps nuclear war would be faster and result in less misery?

      • The poster formerly known as t

        Yes, it would, assuming our nuclear warheads even work after decades of disuse.

  • manoog

    How do we reintegrate humanity into this 3+billion year system?
    Let’s ask Professor Wilson not how young he was when inspired but what has he attempted to do to inspire the young? Would he take any advice from a layperson that chooses to see what one can learn from children free to venture in a natural museum of science? To see into which amongst the countless doors are peered. How then youngest of uninitiated under sensitive eye of docent(s) capture and follow-up with real connections?

    Accordingly, what thought has he the for the idea of delivering a microscope and telescope to even the smallest and remotest villages as a springboard for as many E.O. Wilson’s on Earth as there are ‘stars in the sky’? Today as the road to a village of 60 families in the coldest climate in Armenia soon will re-open in the spring, this disabled combat veteran, will bring his college age nephew to deliver the above items. I
    encourage a bridge to your science to the world that can make a difference.

    If Wilson would rather not himself and 3 billion bio years become extinct, hybrid discipline is the clarion call. To advance a universal, even lay folk like myself can start that conversation. What label does one place upon a meeting of three concerned Caucuses (Eurasian) neighbors, of diverse religion and even at war, have over a shared border-blind flora and fauna for a common fire
    watch… Bio-Politics? Or, opening the entire Armenian National Museum of Natural History for the roaming of only a 3 year old with her two slightly older brothers to deliver a nine page observation the next day…. Bio-Child Development?

    I encourage ‘On Point’ to get to the business of finding an
    ‘older and/or wiser’ biotype who can address or even appreciate the above. I and I believe other listeners, long the rare moments when ‘OP’ can bring ‘Connection’.

    In the future, when you have like-environmental concerns, be they individual, governmental or NGO, hold feet to the fire as to what in their decades of media, legislation, and fundraising has been done in the arena of permanent educational units in the fertile minds right under their footprint of concern. If nothing, have they any objection to using such approaches? For if done, see the difference made by one generation inside, rather than outside, a “3 billion year” envelope.

  • TripleKidney

    Loved EO’s book The Creation, was a nice attempt to get religious folk to think about the environment in a more constructive way.

  • JS

    I take it you haven’t read the comments section much?

  • Coastghost

    At least one salutary feature of Paul Feyerabend’s work: his warnings not to unduly defer to “experts”, partly in order not to confirm them in the dogmatisms they give themselves to so readily.

  • andic_epipedon

    I agree. He is an elder of his society. The point the caller was trying to make was a legitimate argument, but his tone was unacceptable. I wish the caller had been more polite so the show could have given more insight into the merits of his arguments. There are some areas of the world that I do believe are a permanent loss and a write off, but there are so many places that we have left.

  • andic_epipedon

    I actually check them out of the library to conserve resources and allow others to become educated. When I have money I also donate to the library. Perhaps you should check into it.

  • HonestDebate1

    The weather is beautiful, try to have a nice day.

  • Anthony Vasquez

    I don’t understand? What comedy? Also, Amazon has a kindle version that comes with audio and video, pretty neat!

  • http://www.google.com Big Brother

    Time to get on an iceberg and float out to sea, Mr. Wilson.

  • Michael Difani

    I was taken aback by the events in Mozambique and the civil war from 1978 to ’92. It was not a news item, I guess. It’s astounding that much of the area has been unexplored. Prof. Wilson came across as a much younger man, strong and clear. Come on, “Big Brother”, get your own iceberg and drift off with your digital devices and ear buds to nowhereland.

  • http://cals.arizona.edu/earthlight Cody Sheehy

    E.O. Wilson says that we need to find ways to produce more food while at the same time decreasing our ecological footprint. If we don’t there won’t be any biodiversity left even after the human population wave begins to recede. http://cals.arizona.edu/earthlight One example of food production that fits this bill is the completely sealed, “Lunar Greenhouse” that is being developed at the University of Arizona. It is designed to recycle all the water, waste, and atmosphere produced by astronauts on the Moon, but the scientist are also designing spinoff systems that will work in urban cities and in extreme deserts. The link above is to a PBS documentary about the project that will be airing in late July.

  • emma852

    My Uncle Jacob got a year 2013 Audi TT RS
    Coupe by working part time online. imp source C­a­s­h­D­u­t­i­e­s­.­ℂ­o­m

  • Coastghost

    Scientists and technologists perhaps do not merit more respect than skepticism, when and as long as they’re operating in their fields. When they’re at work, scientists merit great skepticism about everything they’re doing, including plausibly searching enquiries into their intent: undue deference to their authority hardly can comprise a new scientific proclamation.
    Besides, scientists and technologists as a class are all very humble people, and with their intellectual rigor and discipline, surely they see the wisdom in our not conceding to their authority utterly: on another hand it was much easier to trust them all before we learned their appetites for destroying the planet and us with it.
    Only outside of their labs and classrooms can scientists and technologists safely be accorded any respect, when they’re being animals like the rest of us.

  • ExcellentNews

    It’s people like E.O. Wilson that need to be leading our corporations, instead of obscenely overpaid predatory sociopaths with a two-year degree in “business administration”. It’s people like E.O. Wilson that need to be in the halls of Congress, instead of pompadoured cronies spouting fundamentalist rhetoric from the stone age. Our civilization is in a bad need of reforming its institutions, or we too will go the way of the DODO.

  • Regular_Listener

    Where is Tom? Who is this imposter? I would have liked to hear E.O. Wilson be interviewed by him.

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