Dear Pastor, [...]Investing your money in finding new uses for wild organisms can make you rich. But I would rather buy stock of pharmaceutical companies, which do very little or no bioprospecting and much laboratory synthesis. It is true that there is a vast untapped potential in little known organisms. The exploration of the world's biodiversity for pharmaceutical and other industrial uses is like the exploration of outer space - we have probed just a tiny fraction. Eliminating half of the stars of the universe and eliminating half of the biological species would still leave enormous quantities of stuff to be explored. Biodiversity is such a big haystack that making it half as small would still allow bioprospectors to keep busy looking for needles for centuries.
In destroying the biosphere, we are destroying unimaginably vast sources of scientific information and biological wealth. Opportunity costs, which will be better understood by our descendants than by ourselves, will be staggering. Gone forever will be undiscovered medicines, crops, timber, fibers, soil-restoring vegetation, petroleum substitutes, and other products and amenities. Critics of environmentalism forget, if they ever knew, how the rosy periwinkle of Madagascar provided the alkaloids that cure most cases of Hodgkin's disease and acute childhood leukemia; how a substance from an obscure Norwegian fungus made possible the organ transplant industry; how a chemical from the saliva of leeches yielded a solvent that prevents blood clots during and after surgery; and so on through the pharmacopoeia that has stretched from the herbal medicines of Stone Age shamans to the magic-bullet cures of present-day biomedical science.
These are just a few examples of what could be lost if Homo sapiens pursue our current course of environmental destruction.
August 29, 2006
Get rich with E. O. Wilson
In the article Apocalypse Now E. O. Wilson writes: