By Edward O. Wilson Simon & Schuster. 149 pp. $30
More than four decades after the first Earth Day, rainforests are still shrinking. Frackers are still fracking. And in April, the United Nations released yet another report on the catastrophic impact of climate change.
At least the world’s greatest living naturalist believes all is not lost. “We should not think that all our ancestors and all that we are today must someday come to nothing,” writes 85-year-old Edward O. Wilson in “A Window on Eternity.” “It is neither too early, nor the topic too remote from day-to-day reality, to envision a different kind of immortality, and how it might be achieved. It resides in those remnants of the natural world we have not yet destroyed.”
Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner known for his books on ants and evolution, finds hope in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, a 1,500-square-mile preserve almost lost to a 15-year civil war that ended in 1992. Though elusive crocodiles survived in Gorongosa, hippos, lions and other large animals were “gone or pushed close to extinction” by poachers and hunters. After peace came, conservation salvaged much of the park’s rich ecosystem — creatures from elephants to insect species, some not yet catalogued, that thrive in the elephants’ dung.
If Gorongosa is to be saved, Wilson says, bolder action is needed, such as creating wildlife corridors in Mozambique like the one proposed to run from the Yukon to Yellowstone. Otherwise the park might join a “slide into extinction” that would turn the Anthropocene Era (the age of man) into “the Eremoncene, the Age of Loneliness.” “Only this level of care applied to large sectors of the land and sea throughout the world will save global biodiversity,” he writes. “While our species continues to manufacture its radically different and untested all-human world, the rest of life should be allowed to endure.”
Those unpersuaded by Wilson’s optimism will still enjoy this book’s beautiful photographs, taken by Piotr Naskrecki, but Wilson’s arguments for defending nature should ensure that “A Window on Eternity” does more than just sit on coffee tables.