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 By Melinda Welsh

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This review was published on 11-23-06.

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The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth by E.O. Wilson

Nobody ever accused E.O. Wilson of mincing words.

So the fact that his latest book arrives with a subhead that constitutes a spectacularly bold plea to humankind—The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth—should come as no surprise.

Yes, the renowned biologist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner has returned in print to remind us that it’s crossroads time. We need to wake up, get smart and save the planet now, or future generations will be diminished, he writes. To summarize: Wilson (our own age’s Thoreau crossed with Einstein) believes the survival of life on Earth is more endangered than ever before, and warns that at least half the species of animals and plants on Earth face extinction by the end of our century.

Written as an impassioned letter to an imagined Southern Baptist pastor, The Creation builds a case for collaboration between the two great forces of religion and science with the end goal of protecting life on Earth. Wilson pulls no punches in explaining how we humans have plundered the Earth, our only home. Saving the planet’s “prodigious variety of life forms should be a common goal, regardless of differences in our metaphysical beliefs,” he tells the pastor.

How did we come to such a crossroads? Because humans, with a “mix of Stone Age emotion, medieval self-image, and godlike technology,” have clear cut the rain forests, caused the oceans to warm and filled the atmosphere with pollutants. By 2050, Wilson asserts, we’re looking at the loss of one-quarter of living species.

Raised a Southern Baptist in Alabama, Wilson makes no bones in The Creation about the fact that he is a secular humanist—one who doesn’t believe in God, but basically holds that existence is “what we make of it as individuals.” Still he argues that one needn’t believe in a divine power to marvel at the Creation and its intricate design. Science and religion should not be divided and at war (as has often been the case) but instead must be “partners in the salvation of the Creation.”

The focus here is not specifically on global warming, though Wilson certainly acknowledges this threat. An unapologetic and proudly geeky entomologist at heart, Wilson shines his beautiful, quirky light on the marvels of nature and the biosphere. He gives readers a kind of loving tour of the miracle of biodiversity and explains why protecting what remains is crucial to human survival.

Wilson’s message can be overwhelming, as in: “The destructive power of Homo sapiens has no limit, even though our biomass is almost invisibly small. We have spread thousands of toxic chemicals worldwide, appropriated 40 percent of the solar energy available for photosynthesis, dammed most of the rivers, raised the planet sea level …”

But hope is not lost. In The Creation, the ever-optimistic Wilson repeats the call he made in his The Future of Life in 2002 to designate and protect certain global “hotspots”—including many of the world’s remaining rain forests. This simple act, he believes, would save pivotal locations of biodiversity and rescue many of the planet’s most vulnerable species in the bargain. He even puts a price tag on this enterprise: about $30 billion U.S. dollars.

Short for a book at just 175 pages (though admittedly long for a letter, even to a pastor), Wilson’s new work is a gem. But conservative preachers may not yet be lining up to read it. Suggestion: After you’ve read The Creation, consider passing a copy along to the nearest pastor. You never know. The pastor might join in heeding Wilson’s warning: “Those living today will either win the race against extinction or lose it, the latter for all time.”