Paleontology: Fossils and Biodiversity

Humans are most probably the first creatures on earth to share an understanding of biodiversity – the notion that the diversity of life itself is an essential ingredient in the recipe for the continuation of life on earth. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History. Michael Novacek is senior Vice President, Provost and Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History.

“So, as humans, we, as far as we can tell, have a unique perception and appreciation of the history of life, the capacity of the planet to change. So one wonders if this conveys some responsibility on us as stewards of the planet. Being unique in our perceptions, we have a special role for stewardship. The question you could break down in a couple of ways. You could say, based on our perceptions, and our ability to analyze data, we know we have both a potential and an actual heavily detrimental role on the planet that no other organism can claim. I suppose a mosquito that spreads malaria might have a guilt trip about this too if it had more perception, but humans, themselves, can perceive this and there is some responsibility that comes with this notion that we have such a capacity to destroy the planet. The second is that our role in stewardship is simply self-serving. That what we view as a beneficial future for humans is coincident with a benefit to natural environments. Now, that’s controversial, because not all people recognize that automatic connection. And indeed, to recognize that connection is part of a learning process, one that we’re trying to improve. Because it’s clear that there is not a widespread sense of what biodiversity is, let alone its importance.”

Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Paleontology: Fossils and Biodiversity

Does our unique ability to recognize our impact on the planet entail a certain responsibility?
Air Date:05/07/1998
Scientist:
Transcript:

Humans are most probably the first creatures on earth to share an understanding of biodiversity - the notion that the diversity of life itself is an essential ingredient in the recipe for the continuation of life on earth. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History. Michael Novacek is senior Vice President, Provost and Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History.

"So, as humans, we, as far as we can tell, have a unique perception and appreciation of the history of life, the capacity of the planet to change. So one wonders if this conveys some responsibility on us as stewards of the planet. Being unique in our perceptions, we have a special role for stewardship. The question you could break down in a couple of ways. You could say, based on our perceptions, and our ability to analyze data, we know we have both a potential and an actual heavily detrimental role on the planet that no other organism can claim. I suppose a mosquito that spreads malaria might have a guilt trip about this too if it had more perception, but humans, themselves, can perceive this and there is some responsibility that comes with this notion that we have such a capacity to destroy the planet. The second is that our role in stewardship is simply self-serving. That what we view as a beneficial future for humans is coincident with a benefit to natural environments. Now, that's controversial, because not all people recognize that automatic connection. And indeed, to recognize that connection is part of a learning process, one that we're trying to improve. Because it's clear that there is not a widespread sense of what biodiversity is, let alone its importance."

Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.