Happy Earth Day, Mother Earth!


atlasIt’s Earth Day, and the Nature Conservancy decided to celebrate with the release of The Atlas of Global Conservation, a lavishly illustrated new book that goes beyond the traditional atlas, providing an in-depth picture of the Earth’s animals, plants, and habitats. The story is largely told through maps — you can get a preview of the maps  here.


Antelopes in the Botswana's Okavango Delta

“This is not about extrapolating trends toward some distant doom-and-gloom scenario.  This is about a complicated system of interacting species, changing climates, altered biogeochemical processes, and rapidly evolving human cultures shifting towards an entirely different global reality,” writes Paul Ehrlich in the book’s foreword.  “It is now widely accepted that our species could be entraining an extinction event as severe as the one 65 million years ago that wiped out all of the dinosaurs except for the birds.”

Sounds like a fancy way of saying what we’ve known for years — that we’re running out of time.  Gretchen Daily, Marilyn Cornelius, Charles Katz, and Brian Shillinglaw, however, write in the new volume that it has always been so:


Cape buffaloes could not survive without seasonal floods

“However measured — in dollars raised or hectares saved — conservation has always been a race to buy time.  Now it needs to be about more, addressing head-on the root problem: that conservation too often is seen as being in conflict with human development.  How do we practice effective, enduring conservation in a world of growing numbers and aspirations of people?  We need to change our approaches quickly if we are to do anything more than temporarily slow the pace of biodiversity loss in a few places.”


Virginia salt marshes offer a smorgasbord for these whimbrels

The maps in this atlas represent “an unfailing faith in facts,” building from the best available data, writes Jon Christensen.  Every shape and color in this atlas has a database behind it.  He continues:

“Maps can inspire and inform. They can also limit and deceive. The more maps try to tell us, the more questions we should ask.  If these maps do not start some arguments, they will have failed.  These arguments matter.  Many of them are about priorities and actions. They are about life and death on Earth.”

We’ve decided to celebrate with a few of the book’s pictures, since nature’s story is best told that way — with apologies to Henry David Thoreau.

(All photos from The Atlas of Global Conservation, University of California Press, 2010.)


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