The Future of Life Essay - Critical Essays

The Future of Life

The eminent Harvard scientist Edward O. Wilson has spent most of his life doing pioneering studies of ants and other tiny creatures, but in The Future of Life he steps back to survey the state of the entire planet’s ecosystem. Beginning with an imaginary letter to Henry David Thoreau, the patron saint of environmentalism, Wilson laments that the present world is being cut down, plowed under, and gobbled up. He chronicles the struggle between economic and ecological forces in countries such as China, where rapid population growth and increasing food production have placed enormous pressure on the environment. He is also concerned with the rapid extinction of species, which he sees as a telling effect of the massive depletion of forests and other natural habitats.

After decades of studying nature close-up, Wilson is now convinced that the earth’s fragile ecosystem is in serious trouble and we are to blame. He previously regarded environmental activists, a small but vocal group who were the first to sound the alarm, as merely fanatics, but now sees them as heroes. They sometimes resorted to extreme tactics such as living in redwood trees to prevent them from being cut down, but, writes Wilson, they kept the important issue of the environment in front of the media.

Wilson sees the depletion of natural resources and the rapid extinction of species as more than just issues of politics and economics; they are moral problems as well. He calls for the creation of a “universal environmental ethic” to raise the consciousness of all human beings to see that we are now living on the edge of ecological disaster, and the time left to save the earth is growing dangerously short.

This book is a passionate and eloquent plea for environmental awareness by one of the great scientific minds of our time.

Sources for Further Study

The American Spectator 35 (March/April, 2002): 54.

Booklist 98 (December 1, 2001): 604.

The Boston Globe, January 13, 2002, p. E7.

Choice 39 (June, 2002): 1793.

Commentary 113 (April, 2002): 65.

The Ecologist 32 (May, 2002): 40.

Library Journal 127 (January 1, 2002): 147.

New Statesman 131 (April 29, 2002): 46.

The New York Times Book Review 107 (February 17, 2002): 11.

The New Yorker 78 (March 4, 2002): 83.

Publishers Weekly 248 (December 17, 2001): 73.