Guest Host: Steve Roberts

Kihansi Spray Toad

Kihansi Spray Toad

New research documents the long term decline of the earth’s biodiversity: What species are most at risk and some conservation efforts that are making a difference.


  • Bruce Stein Associate Director of Wildlife Conservation & Global Warming at the National Wildlife Federation, co-author of study "The Impact of Conservation on the Status of the World’s Vertebrates"
  • Stuart Pimm Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.
  • Bruce Beehler Ornithologist and senior director for biodiversity assessment at Conservation International.
  • Craig Hilton-Taylor Manager of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List Unit and a lead author of "The Impact of Conservation on the Status of the World’s Vertebrates"


  • 10:06:55

    MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane Rehm while Diane is visiting WMFE in Orlando, Fla. Two studies published in the journal Science warn of the looming extinction crisis facing 20 percent of the world's vertebrates unless something is done. The reports were released just as delegates from almost 200 nations wrap up a conference on biodiversity in Japan. Joining us in the studio, Bruce Stein of the National Wildlife Federation and Bruce Beehler of Conservation International.

  • 10:07:23

    MR. STEVE ROBERTSJoining us from the Duke studios in Durham, N.C., Stuart Pimm of Duke University, and on the phone from Cambridge, England, Craig Hilton-Taylor, the manager of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List Unit -- Red List being the key document that charts a lot of the developments we'll talk about this morning. And he is the lead author of the study "The Impact of Conservation on the Status of the World's Vertebrates." Gentlemen, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:07:58

    MR. BRUCE STEINThank you, Steve.

  • 10:07:59

    MR. BRUCE BEEHLERThanks, Steve.

  • 10:08:00

    ROBERTSNice to have you...

  • 10:08:00

    MR. STUART PIMMGood morning -- well...

  • 10:08:01

    ROBERTSGood morning. And as always, you can join our conversation at 1-800-433-8850 and our e-mail address, Craig Hilton-Taylor, I want to start with you. Give our listeners a sense of an overview of what the study you helped write shows.

  • 10:08:22

    MR. CRAIG HILTON-TAYLORRight, Steve. Good morning to you and to all the listeners. Before going to the results of the paper, I just want to give a bit more background to it, just to set the context, really. So what we're talking about here is biodiversity. And this is the variety of genes, population, species, ecosystems that constitute our whole life on earth, really. And these -- all these different components underpin human lives. We derive a wealth of economic benefits and services from this broad range of biodiversity. So things like clean drinking water, pollination, pest control for crops, climate regulation, flood control and things like that are really important. And these -- all these things together are what we call ecosystem services.

  • 10:09:12

    MR. CRAIG HILTON-TAYLORAnd they estimate it to be worth at least $33 trillion a year. So it's a really massive amount of money and really important to a future of humanity that we keep those services functioning properly. But what we see around of all of that, we are destroying biodiversity and all its various forms at a very, very rapid race -- rapid pace because of human activities. And in recognition of this, the world's governments came together, two decades ago now...

  • 10:09:42

    ROBERTSMm hmm.

  • 10:09:42

    HILTON-TAYLOR...and established a international treaty called the Convention on Biological Diversity. And back in 2002, the parties to the Convention on Biodiversity -- CBD as they call it -- they set themselves a target to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity thus by 2010 this year. And so what we've seen this year is a number of papers coming out, looking at various aspects of that 2010 target, as we call it...

  • 10:10:07


  • 10:10:07 see have we met it or not. And all the results are saying, no, we haven't. So this particular study that we just produced two days ago, published in France, involved 3,000 scientists from around the world, looking at the status of vertebrates. These are the backboned animals.

  • 10:10:24

    ROBERTSMm hmm.

  • 10:10:25

    HILTON-TAYLORThings like mammals and birds that, you know, various people care about and very fanatical about, in fact. And so it's essentially the first global orders of this group of organisms. And what it shows is that we're not taking very good care of our natural capital. Because the study shows us that 13 percent of the world's birds are under threat of extinction, so that's one in eight birds are in danger of being extinct in near future, 25 percent of the world's mammals, so it's one in four mammals, 41 percent of the world's amphibians, so one in every three frogs is in danger of being extinct in the near future unless we do something about it. So taking all those figures together, we come up with a figure of about 20 percent...

  • 10:11:05

    ROBERTSMm hmm.

  • 10:11:05

    HILTON-TAYLOR…that one in five of the world's backboned animals are at risk of going extinct in the near future.

  • 10:11:10

    ROBERTSAnd give us a sense -- you've mentioned that the single biggest cause is human activity, but there are many versions of that, many dimensions of it. What are the -- some of the major forms of activities that really -- the causes you've identified here?

  • 10:11:28

    HILTON-TAYLORYes, it is -- there are number of different threats to species around the world. And what we're really seeing now is that those threats are being amplified enormously in various places, especially in the tropics. So things like agriculture expansion and intensification of agriculture and the planting of new commercial crops for biofuels, palm oils and so on.

  • 10:11:49

    ROBERTSAnd what about the question of pollution? In this country, there has been a lot of focus on, say, agricultural runoffs or the impact of pesticides, say, on the eggs of bald eagles and condors. We've been familiar in this country with those kinds of issues. Talk about that as well.

  • 10:12:05

    HILTON-TAYLORThat's correct. Yes. The pollution is a major threat to many species around the world, but particularly freshwater species. And we've done various surveys in North America and Africa and other parts of the world looking at freshwater fish, at the mollusks, the snails, (unintelligible) systems. And many of them are threatened with extinction because of pollution events, increasing sedimentation of rivers and so on.

  • 10:12:28

    ROBERTSAnd what about overfishing? Again, an issue that's gotten a lot of attention in this country, and with the advent of industrialized fishing, huge vessels that can just sweep up anything in their path and stay out on the seas virtually indefinitely -- changed the whole nature of fishing. Talk about that as well.

  • 10:12:51

    HILTON-TAYLORYes, that's correct. So both overhunting and overfishing are...

  • 10:12:54

    ROBERTSMm hmm.

  • 10:12:54

    HILTON-TAYLOR...major threats in many parts of the world. And the reports show that 33 percent of the world's sharks are threatened. And the main threat to sharks is what you called bycatch, where they get caught incidentally by trawlers trying to go for more target fish. And then they catch the sharks. They get killed. And sometimes their (word?) are sold for food to -- around the world. But in most cases, they just get thrown away.

  • 10:13:19

    ROBERTSNow, let me bring in our other guests here. One of the questions here, Stuart Pimm at Duke, is -- what Craig has been describing -- on one hand you talk about overfishing or pesticides, but when you talk about planting for food, there is a competing human need here. Isn't that one of the issues that's really at the core of this, that there are competing needs that are served by the same resources?

  • 10:13:56

    PIMMI think there are two points to be made there. One of them is that only about 12 percent of the Earth's surface is devoted to growing food.

  • 10:14:07

    ROBERTSMm hmm.

  • 10:14:08

    PIMMSo, yes, we need to grow more food. But it's not as if 90 percent of the planet is growing food.

  • 10:14:13

    ROBERTSMm hmm.

  • 10:14:14

    PIMMSo it's not -- it's an important factor, but it's not desperate. It's not that we need every square inch of the planet to grow our crops with an expanding population. But I think the other important factor is that so much of what we do assumes there's this tradeoff between conservation, between biodiversity and human actions. The reality is that people, particularly poor people, depend upon the planet for those ecosystem services that Craig just mentioned. And when we destroy those services, we are ourselves harmed.

  • 10:14:54

    PIMMThe fact that we are destroying the world's fisheries and many of the top predators in the ocean, like sharks and bluefin tuna, that's not in anybody's interest. So one of the things that we need to do is become smarter to get what we need for our development but, at the same time, recognize that we have to live on this planet in a sustainable way.

  • 10:15:19

    ROBERTSBruce Stein, give us a good example. We've talked in generalities. Give us a good example of a species that -- people have focused on the bluefin tuna as a good example. But when you try to crystallize this for people, give us a good example of what we're really talking about.

  • 10:15:36

    STEINOf the kind of species that are at risk of extinction?

  • 10:15:38

    ROBERTSYeah, yeah...

  • 10:15:39

    STEINWell, if we take it just here in the United States -- I mean, this is a global study, but let's look at our own backyard.

  • 10:15:45


  • 10:15:46

    STEINThere are already at least 100 U.S. species that have gone extinct, so this is not a looming extinction crisis. We are actually in the midst of an extinction crisis and another 400 that haven't been seen in so long that we might call them missing in action.

  • 10:16:02


  • 10:16:03

    STEINThat said, there are also a number of species where we have directed conservation efforts, and we've had some significant payoff. So one of the aspects of the study that Craig, myself and a number of other authors just put out actually looked at the value of conservation because I think it's important to ask, given the investments that we're making in conservation, what's the return?

  • 10:16:28

    ROBERTSI want to get to that question in just a minute. But, Bruce Beehler, what's your take on -- give our listeners a specific example of what we're talking about.

  • 10:16:38

    BEEHLERWell, certainly there -- the bald eagle that you mentioned. If -- as a child growing up in Baltimore, I never saw a bald eagle. I can remember the day I finally saw one up on the Potomac -- on the upper Susquehanna.

  • 10:16:50

    ROBERTSMm hmm.

  • 10:16:50

    BEEHLERIt was a huge day.

  • 10:16:52


  • 10:16:52

    BEEHLERThat was in the '60s. That was in a period when DDT was being used in a widespread manner. People weren't even thinking about it. And fast forward to today, when I bike to work to Crystal City from Bethesda, I bike along the Potomac. I see bald eagles and ospreys almost everyday. These were species...

  • 10:17:10


  • 10:17:10

    BEEHLER...that were headed to extinction. They're coming back. They're widespread today because we have taken action. Conservationists have forced the world to think about doing the right thing by these species.

  • 10:17:23

    ROBERTSCraig Hilton-Taylor, let me bring you in here. What have you learned as you look at the conservation efforts? What works? What are some of the lessons you've learned from these attempts to save some of these species?

  • 10:17:37

    HILTON-TAYLOROkay. Well, certainly, the -- all this bad news can be very disheartening, and it can give impression that conservation efforts are wasted. And we know that billions of dollars are spent every year on conservation. You know, 12 percent of the planet is covered by protected areas and so on. And we -- yet, we're not seeing a reverse in the rate of loss. But looking at the results of the study, we found that they are making a notable difference. And, in fact, if we look at the rates of decline in birds and mammals over the last 15 years, they would have been 20 percent worse...

  • 10:18:07

    ROBERTSMm hmm.

  • 10:18:07

    HILTON-TAYLOR...if we hadn't had conservation efforts in place. And the study has had (unintelligible) really remarkable success stories around the world where, you know, we have the expertise, we have the knowledge, we have the right tools where we can turn things around. And you just look at the black-footed ferret in the United States, that's a really great example.

  • 10:18:25

    ROBERTSThat's Craig Hilton-Taylor. He is the manager of International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List Unit. We very much appreciate you joining us, Mr. Hilton-Taylor, today. Stuart Pimm is with me, Bruce Beehler, Bruce Stein. We're going to have your calls and your comments, 1-800-433-8850. Give us a call. We have some lines open. We'll be right back with more of your calls, more of your comments and more talk.

  • 10:20:03

    ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. And our subject this hour, two new reports that have charted the progress and the failures internationally of dealing with endangered species around the world. There's a convention going on, a conference, right now in Japan on this very subject. My guests, Bruce Stein at the -- from the National Wildlife Federation, Bruce Beehler from -- an ornithologist and senior director of biodiversity at Conservation International and on the phone from Duke University, Stuart Pimm.

  • 10:20:34

    ROBERTS1-800-433-8850 is our number,, our e-mail address. And, Bruce Stein, we started to talk before about what works. I mean, there's a lot of bad news, but there is some good news. Bruce Beehler was talking about being able to see bald eagles along the Potomac -- that was not true. And what are we learning about the strategies that work?

  • 10:20:58

    STEINWell, one of the things that we know is when you can identify what the problem is with this particular species, then you can develop some specific responses to that. So let me give you an example. Not far from here in Washington, there's a plant called the Peter's Mountain Mallow that's a relative to the hibiscus. It's existed on a protected reserve. So simply protecting the land was good, but it was declining and declining for no apparent reason.

  • 10:21:25

    STEINWhat our colleagues down in Virginia discovered is that it needed fire to actually crack open its seed. And so once they brought fire in, did some prescribed burns, all of a sudden this is a very rare and endangered species that began to flourish and come back. And there's lots of examples of that type where, when we can isolate the cause -- for instance, Bruce Beehler mentioned the bald eagle, and it was very clear that DDT was the culprit in thinning egg shells for bald eagle, brown pelican, peregrine, things of that sort. When we were able to very carefully target a strategy to get rid of DDT, to introduce fire, in some places to remove grazing, then we do see a very good response.

  • 10:22:07

    ROBERTSGive us another example of strategies, Bruce Beehler. Sanctuaries, a lot of the focus in this meeting in Japan is on expanding sanctuaries where there are protected areas. Now, even those are not fool-proof because you have poachers in Africa certainly has been an ongoing issue. But talk about the efforts and the tensions that result in efforts to create these sanctuaries.

  • 10:22:32

    BEEHLERYou bet. That -- now, that's been a big effort that many of the conservation groups, including CI, have invested in over the last 20, 30 years. And it has paid off benefits. And it does create tensions as well. So you really have to sort of balance the setting aside of the land and the potential costs versus the benefits. And also then you -- now, we've discovered over the last 20 years, how much -- how important climate change is as part of the factor, so suddenly small reserves that were set aside in a certain place may no longer be relevant to the conservation of certain species.

  • 10:23:06

    ROBERTSWhat would be an example of that?

  • 10:23:08

    BEEHLERAn example -- oh, I can't think of -- Stuart Pimm might be able to give me an example of that where we lose -- actually, species loses its habitat as it moves because of climate change.

  • 10:23:18

    ROBERTSStuart, you have a good example?

  • 10:23:18

    PIMMOne of -- yeah, I mean, one of the things that happens is that species need to move north, if they're in the Northern Hemisphere, to get to cooler places. If they're in the tropics, they need to move uphill. They need to go up a mountain slope. There's a reserve in Costa Rica called La Selva -- Duke University had a lot to do with setting that up. It's a center of a major research organization called the Organization for Tropical Studies, and La Selva was at risk of becoming a little isolated patch of tropical forest. And with help, they were able to buy land, forest, protect that forest so that species could move uphill as the climate warmed. It was a very effective piece of...

  • 10:24:08

    ROBERTSThat's a great example, yeah.

  • 10:24:10

    PIMMAnd so a very effective piece of conservation, but unfortunately, there's a lot of other little lowland patches of forest that are now islands. And as things warm, the species have nowhere else to go. There's a lot of things we can do. There's, you know, a lot of things that are a challenge.

  • 10:24:28

    BEEHLERAn example closer to home is Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. It's about two hours from here. It's on the eastern shore of Maryland. It was a fabulous wetlands when I was growing up. Because of subsidence of that eastern shore and climate change, the -- basically, Blackwater is now an open water. All those wetlands basically -- I think 70-plus percent of those wetlands in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge are gone. Those were breeding grounds for just myriad species and a wonderful place for us to visit. When we go there now, we don't see nearly as much, and that's because of climate change.

  • 10:25:02

    ROBERTSAnother dimension here is there's such economic pressure. Fisheries is a very good example, Bruce Stein, where there have been attempts and attempts and attempts to limit industrial fishing and to put limits on catches, limits on the equipment. It was mentioned that the great threat to sharks is bycatch. It's not that people harvest them. They're caught up. Why has there not been a more successful effort in that area to use that as an example?

  • 10:25:34

    STEINWell, fishery -- open sea fishery is particularly tough because it involves so many different countries. It's something that one country alone is not in a position to control. But there actually have been some successes even there. We were talking about the bycatch problem as an example. One of the biggest issues with sea turtles has been the fact -- the way that they get caught up in shrimp trawling nets, as one example. And a number of years ago, there was a lot of pressure put on the shrimp industry to develop some technologies that will essentially allow turtles that were caught in these nets to have an escape valve, things called turtle exclusion devices or TEDs.

  • 10:26:19

    STEINAnd once those were put in place and mandated -- their use mandated, so, again, it wasn't a voluntary sort of thing -- turtle mortality really was reduced. And pretty much all of the sea turtle populations are in danger, and so this was really lifting a lot of pressure off of those populations.

  • 10:26:39

    PIMMOne of the things that we're beginning to do in the oceans is the same as we've done on the land, which is now to set aside marine protected areas. That's happened in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. It's happened in the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. So people are realizing that we can protect the oceans with sort of national parks in just the same way that we do on land.

  • 10:27:01

    STEINAnd, in fact, if I can just add to...

  • 10:27:02


  • 10:27:02

    STEIN...Stuart's point there, what we actually find is that by setting aside certain areas of the ocean and marine protected areas as no-take zones, it actually improves fishing outside of those zones. So it's essentially your -- it's your nest egg that's producing the return on your investment. And then the fishing can be more sustainable outside of those zones.

  • 10:27:24

    ROBERTSNow, Bruce Beehler, there is -- we saw just today, there was an announcement that Japan is going to give $2 billion. It's the host of this conference. People were very encouraged. This is a lot of money. The U.K. has also announced a grant. But governments around the world are also under enormous financial pressures. They're in strikes in France today because of budget cutting measures. So how do you educate people to the point of convincing them that this is worth spending scarce resources on when there are so many other competing demands for this kind of money?

  • 10:28:01

    BEEHLERIt certainly isn't the easiest argument to make -- no question about it -- because we're talking about a global commons. All these wonderful species, they don't belong to anyone in particular. Some belong to particular countries, but many are widespread.

  • 10:28:12

    ROBERTSLike the bald eagle being a very good example, but...

  • 10:28:14

    BEEHLERRight. No -- everybody wants to have them. Nobody really wants to pay the full cost of conserving them. And it is -- so it is a challenge, and that's one of the big challenges. That's why we get together in these conferences and the parties where, in some ways, we shame the countries of the world into doing the right thing. If we all get together, we're all looking at each other, then everyone -- people will pony up the money that's necessary. And it is difficult when you go home, and people are worried about education or people are worried about jobs, it's hard to make that point back home.

  • 10:28:46

    BEEHLERSo -- but you get everybody into a hothouse into some big conference center in Nagoya, you really can apply the pressure, and so it's not only the countries that go to these big meetings. It's a lot of the NGOs -- like National Wildlife Federation or CI or The Nature Conservancy -- go there to make those cases and actually make the point that we're investing in the future. We're investing in the well-being of humanity for the future, not just these species.

  • 10:29:11

    STEINSteve, I think it's also clear that people have begun to recognize the kinds of values that these -- that biodiversity and natural habitats provide.

  • 10:29:19

    ROBERTSWhich is a point that Craig Hilton-Taylor was making...

  • 10:29:20

    STEINThat's right. So as an example, when hurricane Katrina hit, one of the reasons why it was so devastating -- apart from some of the levee mismanagement issues -- was that so much of the marshland in coastal Louisiana has been lost over the last 50 years. And those marshes used to perform an important buffering zone. In fact, you can -- there have studies that very clearly show that the amount of storm surge is directly related to the amount of marsh that the storm surges reduced. And so it's part of the natural hazards reduction. As we've begun sort of mining our natural capital -- both our species, our natural habitats -- we've begun putting human lives more and more at risk.

  • 10:30:01

    ROBERTSAnd part of what Bruce -- he used the word investment. Bruce Beehler used the word investment. As part of the effort here to identify economic benefits and costs, that it's not just a question of sort of generosity or romantic affection for the bald eagle or the bluefin tuna that you can make an economic case for investing money in conservation.

  • 10:30:27

    STEINAbsolutely and…

  • 10:30:28

    PIMMAbsolutely and -- go ahead.

  • 10:30:29

    STEINGo on, Stuart.

  • 10:30:31

    PIMMWell, I mean, one of the big examples of that is the fact that over the last two years, Brazil has reduced its rate of tropical deforestation in the Amazon to about 10 percent of what it was historically. Brazil was one of the top four greenhouse gas submitters on the basis of its burning the Amazon. With a grant from the Norwegian government, it has reduced that deforestation. That's hugely important for biodiversity, but it's also hugely important economically because we know that these greenhouse gasses are responsible for...

  • 10:31:07

    ROBERTSMm hmm.

  • 10:31:07 know, for an increased frequency of tropical hurricanes, sea level rises, which are destroying our marshlands. And the cost of stopping deforestation is a very, very cheap way of taking care of the global warming issue.

  • 10:31:27

    ROBERTSAnd that's one of the reasons why Norway would make a grant to Brazil because Norway had an economic interest in climate change. So this is a sense of how countries are starting to understand that they don't live in isolation, and what happens thousands of miles away can have an economic impact on their own systems.

  • 10:31:46

    BEEHLERAnd there could be more direct impact, Steve. Think of pollination. The apples we eat, all the fruit we eat, so many of the crops depend on insect pollinators. Many of them are wild species. We think of the honeybee a lot, but wild species, too, are important around the world. I'm told, in China, a lot of pollination today is done by hand at considerable extent because the pollinators have been wiped out through thoughtless use of pesticides, so -- but a tradeoff. You use some pesticide to have one benefit, but it has another countervailing negative impact.

  • 10:32:20

    ROBERTSAnd another dimension of this is not just the economic self-interest of governments who are major actors, but private corporations are also huge players in this. And there was an interesting study. It just came out on trying to argue that the economic cost of declining biodiversity is actually a greater economic threat to the planet than terrorism. And trying to get companies to understand that their economic self-interest is related to protection is an interesting dimension of this. And, of course, people use the example of BP as a company that had this thrust on them rather directly in the last year. Go ahead, Bruce.

  • 10:33:04

    STEINWell, certainly, corporations over the last 10, 15 years have been changing their views on this. Some of them have been embracing sustainability and green aspect business practices with some vigor. Some of them, it's not as clear whether they're embracing them or simply marketing themselves as green. Nonetheless, we think it's a positive sign that they feel that compelled to market themselves.

  • 10:33:34

    ROBERTSCompelled to market themselves.

  • 10:33:36

    STEINWe hope that action will take place as a result.

  • 10:33:39

    ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let me read an e-mail from one of our listeners. David Roberts writes, "I've heard discussion of efforts to relocate species across impassable geographic barriers to aid them in adaptation to changing climate zones. How much of this is being seriously considered? And if so, how would it be carried out?" Bruce Beehler, you were talking about some of this.

  • 10:34:03

    BEEHLERWell, you know, that's somewhat a controversial issue. I think there are plusses and minuses. It depends how dangerously in peril the species is. If there really is no other alternative, I think most of us would think that's a possible way. But I think even with climate change, people like to keep species where they are and address the issue where they are. And Stuart Pimm has actually worked on this issue, so I'm going to pass this question on to him.

  • 10:34:29

    ROBERTSAnd, Stuart, when you comment on that, also bring in the notion that we've seen predators transported across barriers. We've seen unnatural species introduced that have been a threat to the environment. Here, in the United States, you know, we've had the snakehead which seemed to have come in ballast water from other continents. So there is a lot of risk in terms of that kind of dramatic movement, right?

  • 10:34:56

    PIMMIndeed. And basic species are a major threat to biodiversity worldwide. They cost hundreds of billions of dollars in economic costs, particularly to agriculture, so none of us are very comfortable with the idea of moving species around. It's a last ditch resort. It's rather like saying, well, you know, triple bypass heart surgery is a solution when, in fact, you know, it's much better to have a healthy diet. It's better to take care of things as a whole with general techniques than it is to try these last ditch efforts. On the other hand, you know, having done that, you know, you'll sometimes realize it's the only way to save the species. And so at some stage, you know, we're going to have to use these very expensive technologies, but there's something..

  • 10:35:50

    ROBERTSHas it been done? Bruce, give us -- I'm sorry. Stuart, give us a sense of -- is there a good example where this has been done?

  • 10:35:59

    PIMMWell, I can give you a recent one from the Everglades where I work. A recently published work on the Florida panther -- the Florida panther wasn't -- it survived in Florida. People -- but it was becoming inbred. There were very few animals that were suffering a variety of genetic diseases, and so people brought -- colleagues brought in panthers from Texas to genetically rescue the population. That's not moving it because of climate change, but it's one of these very expensive techniques. Now, the Florida panther population in Florida is doing a lot better, but it's an expensive way of keeping those species in the area.

  • 10:36:37

    ROBERTSSure. Bruce Stein.

  • 10:36:38

    STEINI think that the e-mailer's question really gives to the more fundamental issue which is, what do we do on the face of climate change? That moving things around, this notion of so-called assisted migration is really just one extreme version of it. But when people talk about confronting climate change or global warming, that really falls into two categories. One is addressing the underlying cause of global warming, and that's about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide. That's referred to mitigation, but we also -- whatever you do about that, we are already living the effects of climate change, and these will get worse. And so we need to both prepare for and cope with the coming consequences. That's called climate change adaptation, and that's really going to define the next era in our conservation worldwide.

  • 10:37:26

    ROBERTSThat's Bruce Stein. He is an expert on wildlife conservation at the Wildlife -- National Wildlife Federation, Bruce Beehler is with me from the Conservation International, Stuart Pimm from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. We're going to be back with your calls, so stay with us.

  • 10:40:03

    ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. And our subject is a very interesting one on whole question of biodiversity and new reports talking about the decline and the threats to many vertebrates around the world, but also some success stories that we've been talking about with Bruce Stein from the National Wildlife Federation, Bruce Beehler from Conservation International and Stuart Pimm, who holds the -- who teaches at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.

  • 10:40:28

    ROBERTSAnd gentlemen, let me read you some e-mails from our listeners. Ed from Ann Arbor writes -- and we've had a number of e-mails on this point -- "Could the guests please address the relationship between the threat to biodiversity and the unrestricted population growth we continue to see? Is it even possible to address these issues in the face of a steadily increase in population competing for the limited resources on our planet?" Who wants to answer that one? Stuart Pimm?

  • 10:40:54

    PIMMYes, I'll be happy to tackle that. The fact is there are many things that we can do and do now to save our planet, to ensure a future for our children and our grandchildren. Clearly, if the population of the world continues to increase, then we're going to end up with a very, very horrible depopulate and badly polluted planet. But it's not just population. It's also the way that we live. It's also our consumption. So, yes, population growth is fastest in the developing world. But consumption is increasing very dramatically in our country in the United States, in Europe. So in the long run, we have to fix this. But on the other hand, it's not all over. There's many things that we can do and we can do now to ensure biodiversity for the future.

  • 10:41:52

    ROBERTSAnd one of the things I was just talking about with the two Bruces here off the air is how everything you do has a side effect and that there is always a cost-benefit analysis on how -- Edwards writes to us from Peachland, N.C. with a very good question on -- and a very good example of this. "What about," he writes, "what about the increased number of deaths in Africa, Asia and Latin America from malaria because of the banning of the use of DDT?" Which, as you pointed out, Bruce Beehler, it helped save the bald eagle. But when you ban the use of this pesticide, you pay a price. Why are the deaths of less significance -- why are their deaths of less significance than other species? Bed nets are nice, but they don't compare in quality to DDT in saving human life.

  • 10:42:32

    BEEHLERI'll take a shot at that. As far as I know, DDT was banned in the U.S. It wasn't banned globally. As -- and I believe that DDT is still in use.

  • 10:42:41

    PIMMBecause WHO approves its use in Africa, I recall.

  • 10:42:44

    BEEHLERSo the combination of the wise use of DDT...

  • 10:42:48

    ROBERTSMm hmm.

  • 10:42:48

    BEEHLER...a specific to malaria eradication or malaria control with bed nets with -- especially medicated bed nets, I think is probably a winner. And it will be having the bright impact.

  • 10:42:59

    ROBERTSHere's another e-mail from Frank in Mooresville, N.C., and we've gotten a number on this subject as well, Bruce Stein. "What changes in daily lifestyle can an average person make to help out the situation? Is it dietary carbon footprint or something else?"

  • 10:43:12

    STEINWell, there's a number of things. But, you know, we can actually look to our own communities and our own backyards to do a lot for wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation, for instance, has a certified habitat program where it gives guidelines for people in terms of how to provide food, shelter, for wildlife that use their own backyards. And then if enough of those backyards come together, even whole communities can be certified. I think, though, beyond that, it's also to -- important to look at how our communities grow and how we plan green space and open space in and around our communities, how we make sure that what we have can not only survive but actually thrive.

  • 10:43:52

    ROBERTSSo part of what you're saying is that there are individual decisions, say, energy saving appliances...

  • 10:43:58

    STEINMm hmm.

  • 10:43:59

    ROBERTS...people can make, but that communities have to come together. We have an e-mail from Kate who asked a very similar question. Let me read it. And she says, "We need to be better about connecting the dots on the local level for people. People can relate to their neighborhood, and I think they feel comfortable acting at that level, planting trees or encouraging their community-elected officials. It's cheap. Everyone can do it, and it starts to build a foundation for education and action."

  • 10:44:23

    BEEHLERWell, that's right. You know, we often think about conservation as something being done elsewhere. We think about Yellowstone. We think about Yosemite. We think about the Amazon and what's going on down there. But we really, you know, can look to ourselves. And we've got tremendous assets very close to home, lots of things that we can do.

  • 10:44:41

    ROBERTSAnd let's turn to some of our callers who want to join this. And let's start with Pam in Portland, Maine. Pam, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Welcome.

  • 10:44:52

    PAMHi. Thanks.

  • 10:44:53


  • 10:44:54

    PAMMy question actually brings us back to climate change again. I -- it's sort of two parts. One part is what would the outcome be on biodiversity if we don't do much about lowering our carbon dioxide emissions? If you could give us a sort of -- maybe some facts and figures to paint that picture, and then secondly, you talked a little about creating quarters for movements and that that's not really a viable way to adapt to climate change. What are some of the things that conservationists are doing to address the outcomes in the future?

  • 10:45:28

    ROBERTSThanks, Pam.

  • 10:45:29

    PIMMI'll be happy to take the first part of that.

  • 10:45:31

    ROBERTSOkay, good. Go ahead, sir.

  • 10:45:32

    PIMMThe world leaders in Copenhagen did not agree to keep the climate at a level that would be merely a two degree centigrade, three-and-a-half degree rise Fahrenheit in temperature. So we can ask how many species live within, you know, three degrees Fahrenheit of the nearest mountain top, meaning that if they move up, they'll simply have to move off the top of the mountain in order to be able to survive. And it's probably about 15, maybe 20 percent of all the world's species. So there's a very large traction of the world's biodiversity at risk simply because it won't be able to find cooler places to live.

  • 10:46:16

    ROBERTSBruce Stein.

  • 10:46:17

    STEINWell, I just wanted to correct the caller on one point. We actually were not saying that corridors do not work or are not important. We were talking about the concept of assisted migration, picking a species up and moving it someplace else. In fact, corridors, or more generally, habitat connectivity, linking between core habitat areas is going to be essential. And that, in fact, is very much the focus in -- of the conservation community...

  • 10:46:44


  • 10:46:44 we think about how to move forward conservation.

  • 10:46:47

    ROBERTSAnd why -- and when you say corridors, you mean encouraging and assisting species to move on their own?

  • 10:46:54

    STEINWhat we mean is making sure that if you have a park or protected area in one place, that there is a way in some natural habitat connecting that one to other parts in protected areas so that animals and over the long-term plants can move on their own rather than having to be picked up and moved. (unintelligible)

  • 10:47:16

    BEEHLERA simple local example would be a way that deer and coyotes and the like could move across major highways. That's at a very small scale. So -- but in a larger scale, it's basically linking green spaces, (word?).

  • 10:47:31

    ROBERTSLet's turn to Emily in Chapel Hill, N.C. Welcome, Emily. Happy to have you with us.

  • 10:47:35

    EMILYHi, thank you. Thanks. I work in public health, and I'm very familiar with arguments about how biodiversity is important for creating medicines and also...

  • 10:47:44

    ROBERTSMm hmm.

  • 10:47:45

    EMILY...with the green revolution in terms of our behavior. What I'm less clear on is research or modeling that's been done to really understand the big picture of how humans as species fit into an ecological system. I was wondering if the callers can talk a little bit about that.

  • 10:48:01

    ROBERTSThanks, Emily. Who's going to answer that? Stuart.

  • 10:48:05

    PIMMYeah, you know, we are part of nature. We are a very essential part of nature. But, you know, that doesn't mean to say we can just go out and destroy willy-nilly. So none of us is saying that we should -- you know, we should exclude ourselves from large areas of the planet. We've got learn to live with it. One of my experiences in working in developing countries -- in Madagascar, in South America and Africa -- is people really depend on the environments around them. And therefore, working out the ways in which we can tread gently is vitally important for people who are in poor countries, most of whom do not go to the nearest pharmacy to get their medicines but rely on a whole variety of plant products, many of them quite effective, to look after their health.

  • 10:49:00

    ROBERTSBut it seems to me that one of the problems we're facing is if you look at the history of the United States, the whole attitude toward the incredibly rich wilderness that lay west of the Alleghenies was to exploit it. It was to conquer it. It was to break the sod, cut down the trees, mine the minerals, and American prosperity, in many ways, was built on the exploitation of the environment, not the conservation of the environment. And when -- now, when developed countries gone through that phase, now turned to the less developed world and say, you should approach things in a different way. You shouldn't do what we did 100 years ago, but you should be far more careful stewards of your environment. People say, but wait, we need to follow the same route in order to create prosperity for our people. How do you make that conviction?

  • 10:49:46

    BEEHLERI think it's based on something we forget about the history of the development of the U.S., which was the decimation of the indigenous populations, the human populations, the 600-plus language groups that lived here and lived with the environment.

  • 10:50:00

    ROBERTSMm hmm.

  • 10:50:00

    BEEHLERIn many of the developing countries today, like where I do a lot of work in Papua New Guinea, there are many indigenous people living on the land. If you go look at those lands, those are rich, those are forested, those are still in great shape. They're people and land living together. And I think the American example is one of the...

  • 10:50:17

    ROBERTSWithout Wal-Marts and Starbucks.

  • 10:50:19

    BEEHLERWithout Wal-Marts and Starbucks.

  • 10:50:21

    ROBERTSAnd the question is whether, as you develop, and if people aspire to that development, how do you that in a sustainable and manageable way, right?

  • 10:50:30

    BEEHLERWell, I think this indigenous...

  • 10:50:31

    PIMMI mean, we...

  • 10:50:31

    BEEHLER…if you think indigenous versus (word?), we came from somewhere else with all our preconceived notions and created a unique phenomenon. I think we need to work with indigenous people or local people to create something very different in the future.

  • 10:50:47

    ROBERTSLet me turn to a couple more callers here before we run out of time. And I want to get to Shema (sp?) in Baltimore. Thanks for joining us this morning.

  • 10:50:55

    SHEMAHi. Thank you for taking my call. This is briefly mentioned by -- about Hurricane Katrina. But I was wondering how natural disasters affect the conservation of the species, and if there's a specific example of a species that was, you know, like their efforts to be -- having conservation and were started because of a natural disaster.

  • 10:51:20

    ROBERTSBruce, you were talking about Katrina. Bruce Stein.

  • 10:51:23

    STEINWell, you know, natural disasters -- it's interesting, the relationship between natural disasters and conservation, because a lot of natural ecosystems evolved over time with these kinds of disasters. So hurricanes -- in the Caribbean, for instance, the vegetation communities, the habitats in the Caribbean, you know, have dealt with this over the years. And so, actually, disturbance on its own is not always the problem. In fact, many of these things require periodic disturbance in order to rejuvenate them.

  • 10:51:54

    ROBERTSWell, you gave the excellent example of fire needed to crack open the seed pods, not only for the mallows, but for many others.

  • 10:52:02

    STEINThat's right. But here's an example where combining climate change impacts with natural disasters is having, you know, problems that we didn't foresee. Down in the Florida Keys, I was recently at the refuge setup to protect the little Florida Keys deer. And because sea level rise is coming up, what you've had is storm surges during hurricanes coming up and actually inundating some of the pine forest that provide the habitat. Those pines are now dead.

  • 10:52:31

    ROBERTSSo the natural disaster is part of life there, but then the impact has been exacerbated by men.

  • 10:52:39


  • 10:52:39

    ROBERTSAnd so it's a combination of the two.

  • 10:52:40

    STEINYes, exactly.

  • 10:52:41

    ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk to a couple more of our callers in. Charlie in Kentucky, thanks for your patience. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show." So...

  • 10:52:55

    CHARLIEHi. I'm on?

  • 10:52:56

    ROBERTSYes, you're on. But, please, go ahead.

  • 10:52:58

    CHARLIEOkay. I understand what you're saying. And as a fundamental Christian, I believe that we are called to be good stewards of what the Lord's given us. But my problem is this, I haven't heard you guys talk about a reason why anybody should care because -- A, if you subscribe to the evolutionary model, then what you're saying seems to be that hey, we've evolved far enough. We need to put the breaks upon the natural progression of what's happening on the planet. Or you're saying that from a theological viewpoint, since God is in control of this, and he's allowing this to happen or possibly causing it directly that we need everybody to join together and fight against God. So...

  • 10:53:45

    ROBERTSThanks very much, Charlie.

  • 10:53:47

    PIMMI'd like -- could I handle that?

  • 10:53:49

    ROBERTSStuart, you -- yes.

  • 10:53:49

    PIMMI'm a Christian, too. I'm not a fundamentalist. I'm Anglican -- I guess an Episcopalian in this country. For me, it's a very simple injunction because St. John says, God so loved the world. And in original Greek, it's God so loved the cosmos. And for me, this is a simple religious injunction that says God cares for his creation. And while I'm also an evolutionary biologist, as a Christian, I don't see the problem. And what we do have as Christians is a responsibility to look after that world and that cosmos. I do not see anything in the Bible that says we should just simply go out and destroy willy-nilly.

  • 10:54:37


  • 10:54:37

    BEEHLERIt's stewardship of all God's creatures, in essence.

  • 10:54:40

    ROBERTSAnd also at the very beginning, Craig-Hilton Taylor gave a long list of reasons why this matters to everybody, from the medicines that can be derived from certain species to the impact on freshwater. I mean, there's a long list of reasons for self-interest apart the religious or moral questions, right, Stuart -- I'm sorry -- Bruce Stein?

  • 10:55:07

    STEINAbsolutely. And again, if you take a creation view, then protecting God's creation makes a lot of sense, and you don't need to get into all of the more mundane economic reasons. But there are plenty of those reasons as well.

  • 10:55:24

    ROBERTSTime for maybe one more caller in Pracks (sp?) in New Bern, N.C. I know you're a biologist. So thanks for joining us this morning.

  • 10:55:31

    PRACKSYes, thank you. I actually work with finding invasive species here in North Carolina. And I totally agree with all your callers' views. And it's a great topic. I just wanted to ask about, I guess, the estimate is over 90 percent of all species that have ever lived have gone extinct. And I was wondering if the guest could comment on how that weighs in the natural cycle of things, and which species, you know, are naturally going extinct and which ones are, you know, because of us.

  • 10:56:08

    ROBERTSThank you, Pracks. Final point on this, Bruce Stein, we are in -- there are already been five waves in the history of the world of extinction. Dinosaurs didn't go extinct because of climate change or because of pesticides...

  • 10:56:20

    STEINThat's right. They -- because they were smoking, as the Gary Larson cartoon.

  • 10:56:23

    ROBERTS...or pesticides, so deal quickly with this question...

  • 10:56:26


  • 10:56:27

    ROBERTS...or there's some certain amount of this is simply natural.

  • 10:56:30

    STEINWell, when we look over the fossil record, what we find is that the current extinction rate is between 100 and 1,000 times higher than background rates. I think the other thing to keep in mind is although evolution has taken place over long periods of time as things -- species have gone extinct, other species have developed. Right now, however, we've ratcheted up the extinction rate, but the rate of new species evolution and creation is definitely not keeping a pace.

  • 10:56:57

    ROBERTSThat's going to have to be the final word. Bruce Stein with the National Wildlife Federation, Bruce Beehler, senior director for biodiversity assessment at Conservation International, Stuart Pimm, the Doris Duke chair of conservation ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He's been with us Durham. And Craig Hilton-Taylor, thanks to you as well, from the International Union for Conservation of Nature. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. And we're delighted you spent part of your morning with us. Thanks.

  • 10:57:24

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows