There is something missing from the world today … actually, there are a great many somethings missing from the world today.
I refer of course to the species that have gone extinct throughout history. Some of these extinctions occurred naturally over a great span of time. Others occurred as a mass extinction caused by some cataclysmic event.
The “natural” rate of extinction is about one-five species per year, but in recent history, scientists have estimated about twelve species per day are going extinct!!
At this rate of acceleration, it appears we may be heading for another mass extinction. This time it will be the end of the Age of Mammals (the Cenozoic Era).
We as humans discuss a lot of issues, politics, religion, social injustice, and yes even the environment. But where we seem to focus our attention is at the very high level, big picture aspects. When we talk about the environment we talk about the ice caps melting (which will take a long time and have obvious widespread effects), we also talk about our grandchildren and providing them with clean air and water. Long-term, big picture stuff.
But what about the small things? The microbiology of Earth? EO Wilson, a microbiologist, speaks out about the importance of insects and microorganisms. For example, he talks about a tiny marine-bacteria in the oceans that was only recently discovered, in 1988. They are now considered to be one of the most populace life forms on Earth, and one of the smallest. This sub-microscopic entity is now thought to be the leading producer of photosynthesis in the ocean.
These are things that go unknown and unnoticed to most people. Because of this ignorance of the world around us. We continue to generate contaminants that we think are protecting us, but are probably actually leading us down the path to extinction. Many small organisms and insects are absolutely vital to our survival, but we spread pesticides and antibiotics with ease.
Wilson has a dream of knowledge, spreading knowledge of every species on Earth and how they might interact with and support our own selves. He calls it the Encylopedia of Life. The idea is an opensource online encyclopedia where scientists can log their knowledge about any and every species on Earth.
That fits into what we discuss in class very nicely, I think, it is basically a scientific forum for sharing information and knowledge. It could inspire a movement to help save some of these species that we unwittingly rely on for life.
Another TED talk given by Wilson is a call to young scientists to take up the mantle of research and discovery. It seems Wilson has a concern about a reduced interest in the field of scientific research. He cites a fear of failure as what he thinks is the reason for this decline. Amusingly, he spends some time trying to convince the audience that math isn’t that hard to learn, and he goes so far as to say that professors and academics should focus less on mathematics, and more on imagination. He suggests that if you make a brilliant discovery, or have a brilliant idea, you can always hire a mathematician to join the research team.