Letter from the Chair: Dr. Stuart Pimm:
In October 1999, Dr. Gordon Moore (Chairman Emeritus of Intel Corporation) and Dr. Edward Wilson (Professor at Harvard University) sent out invitations to for a groundbreaking conference of business leaders and key experts from different disciplines. Entitled “Defying Nature’s End: A practical agenda for saving life on the planet,” the event took place from August 22-26, 2000 at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. The conference was hosted by the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS) at Conservation International (CI), in collaboration with The World Conservation Union (IUCN).
The purpose of this conference was to assemble a diverse group of participants from the private sector, government, research and conservation organizations in order to assess the present status of biodiversity and devise a practical blueprint for addressing the most immediate conservation needs. In other words, an agenda to defy Nature’s End.
As one of the Science Advisors to CABS, I was asked to serve as the Secretary of the Scientific Steering Committee for this conference. In this capacity, CABS asked me to coordinate six thematic working groups entrusted with the responsibility of producing technical documents in anticipation of the conference. The mission of the six groups and their combined thirty scientists was to produce a series of short background papers. The assignment I gave each group was simple:
“Be bold, be creative, and imagine that you will be given whateverresources you need.”
As Dr. Moore and Dr. Wilson expressed it in their invitation letter:
“Never have we been in such a position to create real change. The global conservation effort can be raised to the level the problem requires. We firmly believe that together we can make substantial and significant headway in our battle to save the world’s precious and endangered biodiversity.”
CABS selected six themes, though they are broad enough — and obvious enough — that are hardly likely to create controversy. Two of the themes are central to Conservation International’s current efforts. The first is the protection of major wilderness areas of the planet (the Amazon, the Congo, New Guinea and associated areas) which contain much of the variety of life on Earth — biodiversity. The second involves the hotspots, the extraordinary places where so many unique species are concentrated into such small areas and where human actions are now causing so many of those species to be threatened with extinction. Since these themes are so crucial to Conservation International’s efforts, it was only appropriate that these two groups be chaired by CI staff (Drs. Russell Mittermeier and Anthony Rylands, and Drs. Gustavo Fonseca and Thomas Brooks, respectively), but each group would solidify ideas from a much wider set of experts.
Two more themes encompass terrestrial and freshwater environments (chaired by myself), and marine environments (chaired by Dr. Callum Roberts). A fifth team (chaired by Dr. Andrew Dobson) was empowered to look at the social driving forces behind environmental change. The final group (chaired by Dr. Robert Costanza) was charged with examining the connections to ecosystem services, the services that biodiversity provides withoutprovides without which humanity could not survive. Committee chairs were asked to select their own teams, though CABS and I provided occasional advice to ensure regional and other diversity. The results of the six team’s deliberations constitute the third and final section of this Agenda.
As with many documents, one reads it in reverse chronological order. Immediately prior to the six individual reports is a summary of discussions, which began at CABS in mid-May and looked for common themes among the individual reports. These discussions also searched for possible tensions — conflicting ideas where we might need to evaluate whether we should do X or whether we should do Y. The answer was always that we must do both X and Y, but we wanted to explore how one would trade off priorities.
The final document is a synthesis of all these discussions — a compact agenda that documents what must be done if we are to leave to future generations a planet with its current breathtaking beauty and diversity. Even before that synthesis comes its most emphatic conclusion: the required task is possible. Indeed, on the scale of what humanity can accomplish and in terms of the available financial and other resources, it is not even that difficult.
We can defy Nature’s End.
Stuart L. Pimm
Center for Environmental Research and Conservation
Columbia University, New York.