Michael J Novacek

To engage people in biodiversity and other environmental issues, one must provide the opportunity for enhanced understanding that empowers individuals to make choices and take action based on sound science and reliable recommendations. To this end, we must acknowledge some real challenges. Recent surveys show that, despite growing public concern, environmental issues still rank below many other problems, such as terrorism, health care, the economy, and (in the U.S.) family values. Moreover, much of the recent upswing in interest in the environment is due to the marked shift in attention to global warming away from other environmental problems such as destruction of ecosystems, water pollution, overpopulation, and biodiversity loss. Such a change in public focus often comes with a tendency to decouple various environmental problems and ignore their synergistic effects. Exacerbating this problem are arguments from the media and other sources that discourage public interest in environmental topics by characterizing the science behind them as overly complex, immersed in debate and controversy, and detached from human interests. Educational programming, media, exhibitions, and other means of public outreach should build on the welcome increase in public interest in global warming by demonstrating the interplay of various environmental disruptions. In the case of biodiversity, the importance of species in providing ecosystem

American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024.

298 / Michael J. Novacek

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