SOCIOBIOLOGIST Edward O. Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, is a strident defender of species diversity on Earth and an insistent prophet of ecological deterioration.
In a recent interview in Modern Maturity magazine, Dr. Wilson explained his concerns:
"I believe we are currently in the midst of one of the great extinction spasms of geological history. There have been five up until now and we are, I think, in the sixth. The most recent, about 65 million years ago, was caused when a meteorite struck Earth. This led, among many other things, to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Each of those extinctions has been catastrophic for Earth because it's taken an average of 10 million years to recover from each of them.
"The difference between the previous great extinctions and this one is that the latter is caused by the actions of man -- who may ultimately be among its victims.
"We are presently losing species, losing the diversity of our ecosystems, at an alarming rate. There have always been extinctions of what you might call a 'natural' kind. Species that cannot compete or find a niche disappear. But as these species become extinct, others come along. So the trend is, increasingly, toward diversity.
"Since the appearance of human beings, however, the rate of extinctions has increased somewhere from 1,000 to 10,000 times. I often say that, as a biologist, I sometimes feel like an art curator watching the Louvre burn down.
"I am not necessarily a doomsayer who believes mankind is headed for early extinction. But I certainly believe it is possible, if we don't curtail some of our more environmentally destructive actions, that the world we leave for our descendants will be a much more impoverished and unpleasant place to live."