Duke ecologist's book offers hopeful view of Earth's plight

DURHAM, N.C. -- As described by ecologist Rob Jackson in his new book "The Earth Remains Forever," ours is a planet that is losing species at more than 100 times the average historical rate as reflected in the fossil record.

It is also a planet where the population of six billion humans increases by another billion about every 12 years; where farmers pour billions of pounds of pesticides into its soils each year; and that has, in the last three decades, lost a million and a half square miles of forest, the equivalent of all the forest lands in North America today.

As Jackson, an associate professor of biology at Duke University, lays out a stunning litany of facts about the damaging human impact on Earth, he also emphasizes the importance of preserving the natural world -- citing, for example, the fact that more than 40 percent of all pharmaceuticals are derived from "nature's medicine cabinet" (plants, animals and microbes).

Even as he uses stark facts to build a case for immediate action to remedy global environmental problems, Jackson has emerged from the experience of writing the book with hope that these problems can be solved.

"In some cases, my research for the book showed that some situations were not as desperate as I had thought previously," he said in an interview. "While we do have very serious ecological problems to solve, I don't believe that the 'catastrophization' of science is helpful."

Catastrophization, he explained, occurs when "people sometimes use bad environmental news to further an agenda, and even through I feel strongly about the importance of protecting the environment, it's a dangerous game to play. It results in genuinely bad news being swamped by 'pretend' bad news."

For that reason, said Jackson, he wrote "The Earth Remains Forever" (University of Texas Press) to offer the public an accessible, realistic source of information about global environmental problems and approaches to sol

Contact: Dennis Meredith
Duke University

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