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Conservation in the 21st Century

More memorable moments from the 2009 Explorers Symposium:

  • Linguists David Harrison and Greg Anderson discuss their work on the Enduring Voices project. “We’ve been out taking the pulse of some of the world’s smallest and most endangered languages,” says Harrison. “I love to think of our work as a kind of time travel. We get to encounter ancient systems of knowledge that are still alive in endangered languages, and through digital documentation and photography and recording, we get to send a postcard to the future for the benefit of generations to come.”

  • Naturalist and Nat Geo Explorer-in-Residence Mike Fay describes the 21st century as a crescendo of conservation crises. “Every day that passes,” he says, “it used to be like this little peen hammer that’s … saying ‘Gotta wake up, conservationists, the world is changing very fast, and all these things that are normally outside of your realm are entering your realm…. So now it’s the sledgehammer beating on our heads, saying that global warming is obviously real, and ecosystems are collapsing worldwide not just because of local problems and impacts and use, but because of many things that span from this square inch to the entire globe.”

  • Marine ecologist and Nat Geo Fellow Enric Sala relates an effort to quantify what biodiversity and marine life do “for us. It took 14 people and three-and-a-half years to compile the meager information that was available. And what we found was that the more intact the system is, the more services it provides. Period. If you extract more from a system, you are going to end up getting less. So what we need to do is go from the traditional view of exploiting these ecosystems, seeing these ecosystems as one resource at a time, to seeing the connections. We cannot disconnect global warming from ocean degradation from deforestation from freshwater issues. They are all connected.”

  • UCLA geographer and Nat Geo Explorer-in-Residence Jared Diamond reminds the audience that “big businesses are among the most powerful forces in the world today…. Conservation in the 21st century is doomed to failure unless we can get strong support—not just benevolent neglect, but strong support—from big businesses.”

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