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The Future of Life, according to E. O. Wilson

The Future of Life is a warning against the massive extinction of species, as well as an epic of hope as humanity stands at a crossroads.

The naturalist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson, is one of the most respected authorities in the world on topics related to the conservation of the natural legacy that still exists on the planet.

Under the fragile appearance of an elderly gentleman more the son of the northwest U.S., where he resides and still gives classes, than that of the small southern city of Birmingham, Alabama, hides a strategist and activist working for nature.

Wilson is a public personality proven capable of defending natural preservation before any politician or organization, in any place on the planet; on his own accord or representing an organization. A type of dry land Jacques Cousteau, he is focused on studying the life of the planet and trying to preserve it.

The Future of Life is a manifesto, written with precise and straightforward language, on the splendor of the biosphere and the dangers to which we have exposed it. Present levels of consumption are not sustainable, but the human race, always focused on its present needs, seems to not have changed its short-term vision of the environment.

Edward O. Wilson, capable of seeing nature, as he confesses, in any puddle or backyard forest, is clear that the road that human beings should follow to continue enjoying the natural legacy of our planet is not compatible with the present ideology of prevailing development: in order for the current worldwide population to achieve the consumption levels of the U.S. population, we would need resources equivalent to four planets like Earth. Europe and Japan are not far behind, while Southeast Asia is trying to reach these levels of consumption.

Edward O. Wilson achieves with this book, a meditation “to the public at large” about the splendor of our biosphere and the dangers to which we have exposed it, with some already irreversible consequences: after having caused the massive extinction of a good part of the megafauna of the planet, human beings are causing the extinction of plants and animals at a rhythm so that they can’t be catalogued before their complete disappearance.

A battle between short- and long-term values: a mere ethical decision

Wilson clearly exposes the challenge facing humanity in this new century: “To raise the poor to a decent standard of living worldwide while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible.”

If present levels of consumption are maintained or increased in the next decades, half of the animal species remaining on the planet would disappear by the middle of this same century; though the course of this loss and the rhythm of extinctions will depend on the attitude of man.

The Future of Life stands out not only for its optimism, but for its simplicity. It describes the disastrous situation of the planet and subsequently analyzes the opportunities with which mankind has to extricate himself from the mess he has created.

For Wilson, “the great dilemma of environmental reasoning” is part of the conflict between conservationism and the economy, between the long-term values and those of the short term. Conservation, he writes in The Future of Life, is necessary to guarantee our health and long-term prosperity. The loss of biodiversity will result in economic losses in industries like agriculture, medicine and biotechnology.

The Future of Life argues that the “bottleneck” caused by overpopulation and consumption growth can be overcome. Wilson contends that the necessary resources exist to overcome the crisis, though success or failure will depend on an ethical decision.

Global conservation will be successful or will fail, according to Wilson, in function of the cooperation between government, science and the private sector, as well as the interrelation among biology, economy and diplomacy.

Victory of Ethics?

Edward O. Wilson is one of the few environmental activists that is not seen as an extremist by conservatives nor as one who defends short term economic interests.

His arguments are listened to by governments, influential businessmen and researchers and scientists, the three groups of actors that, according to Wilson, work more and more narrowly to contribute solutions to the Earth’s loss of biological diversity.

The work concludes with all the strength of its beginning, when Wilson apologizes, in an imaginary letter, to the politician and 19th century American naturalist Henry David Thoreau.

The last phrase of the book clarifies his hope in human beings: “A civilization able to envision God and to embark on the colonization of space will surely find the way to save the integrity of this planet and the magnificent life it harbors.”


  • Title: The Future of Life
  • Author: Edward O. Wilson
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • Genre: Non-fiction
  • Pages: 256
  • Year: 2002


  • Biography of Edward O. Wilson, in Wikipedia.