Assignment Educate the Public to Natures Marvels

In the end, we conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.

Baba Dioum, Senegalese poet

A sad predicament for conservation efforts in the modern world is that a large fraction of humanity is estranged from nature, a situation that is likely to get worse as urbanization increases and human numbers soar. For example, I teach at a major university most of whose undergraduate students come from the metropolitan Los Angeles basin, and relatively few of those students seem to have had much opportunity for substantive personal contact with nature. Furthermore, our biology curriculum offers few ''organismal'' courses that might help to alleviate this problem. The situation here in Southern California is hardly unique. How can educators enthuse their students about biodiversity when direct experiences with nature have not been a significant part of those students' upbringing?

The good news is that many students (as well as many members of the general public) seem willing and eager to embrace nature if simply given the opportunity. Therein lies a third grand mission for molecular genetics and the other biodiversity sciences in conservation efforts: to cultivate in students of all ages a sense of awe, respect, and appreciation for the numerous other creatures—including the charismatically challenged—that share our crowded and imperiled planet. As phrased by E. O. Wilson (1984), ''to the degree that we come to understand other organisms, we will place a greater value on them, and on ourselves.'' And, as noted by the late Stephen J. Gould (1991), ''We cannot win this battle to save species

296 / John C. Avise and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature . . . for we will not fight to save what we do not love.''

An emotional and intellectual appreciation of nature, and also of rational scientific efforts to comprehend its workings, can be stimulated in many ways. Visual presentations (such as the Life on Earth TV series or the March of the Penguins movie) can play huge roles in educating the public. So too can eloquent thoughts and words, spoken or written. Fortunately, many biologists take delight in conveying the excitement of natural history and the joy of scientific inquiry to their students and also to the general public via trade books, lectures, service in conservation organizations, and other venues. Such efforts should be encouraged, applauded, and rewarded because only an educated public is motivated to demand a place for nature on this human-dominated planet.

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