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Like burning art masterpieces to cook dinner Featured

”Destroying a tropical rainforest and other species-rich ecosystems is like burning all the paintings of the Louvre to cook dinner."— Edward O. Wilson, the "father of biodiversity."

Notes:  Wilson continues:

"That is what we are doing.   We need this money from our palm oil plantations—sorry about  the great forest of Borneo and the organgutans."

Woods Hole oceanographer and White House Science Advisor  John Holdren carries a similar metaphor a bit further:

"The biodiversity of the planet is a unique and uniquely valuable library that we have been steadily burning down—one wing at a time—before we have even cataloged all the books, let alone read them all."

Wilson and Holdren quotes are from Thomas Friedman, Hot, Flat & Crowded (2008), p. 142.   A slight variation of Wilson's quote is found in Haydn Washington & John Cook, Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand (2011) p. 34.


"Burning fossil fuels is like breaking up the furniture to feed the fireplace because it’s easier than going out to the woodpile."




Bite Source: E. O. Wilson, the "father of biodiversity," quoted in Thomas Friedman, Hot, Flat & Crowded, Picador (New York:  2009), p. 182.

Variation source:  Climate Progress.

Image Source:  here

5 votes

Bite Details

Submitted by
Tom Smerling
Com (2)

September 5, 2011

Short and accurate.

I think we sometimes forget the scope of what's happening and the true value of a thing, even before climate change was well known we had rainforests disappearing and incredible rates of extinction. For my part the value of biodiversity seems for its own sake, but if you had to put other values on it, consider all the unknown medicinal uses of plants and animals gone forever.

Speaking of burning masterpieces, coal has many other uses. I feel it's underpriced. In Australia the carbon tax debate goes on, there's many aspects to be fairly discussed but the real value of things needs to be considered at the least.
byBrian Ettling

October 22, 2011

Ever since I saw E.O. Wilson on a National Geographic special in January, 1998 speaking on the value of endangered species, he has had a huge influence on my life. Since then, I have loved reading and owning his books, such as "The Future of Life" and "The Creation." Thank you for posting this. It reminded me how eloquent E.O. Wilson is as he speaks so passionately about preserving the diversity of life on Earth.

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