Peter Raven has served as Professor
of Botany at Washington University and Director of the
Missouri Botanical Garden since 1971. A champion of
conservation and biodiversity, Raven has cultivated
research and educational programs in Latin America,
Africa and Asia, as well as North America.
The recipient of numerous prizes and awards, Raven is
a member of the President's Committee of Advisors on
Science and Technology and is the Chairman of the National
Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration.
In February 2001, Raven will become President of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science.
He is also a member of academies of science in other
countries, including Argentina, China, India, Italy
co-editor of the Flora of China a joint
Chinese-American effort to census all the plants of
China Raven is a prolific author of both popular
and peer-reviewed scientific literature. His works include
Biology of Plants, the internationally best selling
botany textbook, and Environment, a leading environmental
links to this scientist's home page and other related infomation
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Steve Swoveland asked:
am an environmental regulator in Richmond Indiana, pop.
45,000, and have a BS in Biology. I live in a small
community, pop. 2000. I see urban sprawl destroying
more land and resources in our community every day.
A small wetland in a floodplain behind my house will
be destroyed this spring for a golf driving range. I
personally fought last summer to stop the driving range
development by harassing the State and Army Corp of
Engineers into looking into the matter.
town leaders are fighting me, the developers are continuing
forward, and I can gather NO community support. I am
at wits end, to the point that I am losing
interest in my own regulatory job. Why beat myself up
everyday trying to regulate industrial compliance when
local, State, and Federal policies allow continuous
destruction of our habitat? Any words of wisdom? Any
suggestions? Care to buy a golf driving range? It would
be a nice place for a wetland.
you accomplish, every single victory, will make the
town better for those who live there in the future.
Keep the faith, and work on tangible projects, ones
that you think you can win -- then those will serve
as models for others, and draw together a set of like-minded
volunteers who, like you, care. Some issues will not
work out as you wish, but if you find specific ones
and enlist help, you will find some success. Have you
a local chapter of the sierra club? That might be a
good place to begin -- or find another group that will
help. State Sierra Club can probably help too. Good
Robin Pendleton asked:
an Interior Designer and volunteer at the Bronx Zoo,
I am particularly concerned about the continued use
of wood veneers from the rain forest. Do you believe
that there is a method to responsibly use and replenish
these species or should we use alternative materials.
Thank you for your response.
insist on sustainably-grown forest products; ask your
suppliers, and ask them to prove their sources. There
are many people interested in this issue, and you probably
have a local store that emphasizes it. Home Depot, largest
purchaser of wood in the world, attempts to use only
sustainably-produced wood. But asking questions and
buying preferentially are the methods of choice.
Gwyn Wahlmann asked:
was shocked to see Peter Raven chosen to speak for environmentalists,
for his philosophy hardly represents concern for biodiversity.
Missouri Botanical Gardens rainforest research is conducted
according to an "ark" mentality of collecting and cataloguing
plant specimen before they are extinct and to heck with
saving the rest of the ecosystem, its too late anyway.
This fatalism hurts the efforts (and funding) of those
who continue to work towards saving the biodiversity
of ecosystems----not just the plants. You may note that
Raven cited prospective economic value of unknown and
newly-discovered plants twice in this interview, the
integral importance of insects, reptiles, mammals, etc.
not once. This corporate-friendly position is hardly
surprising when one knows that Monsanto has sunk a great
deal of funding into the Missouri Botanical Gardens
and Raven is, in fact, married to a Monsanto employee.
I'm sorry but raiding the rainforests for samples that
may prove to have future economic value is hardly representative
of a concern for biodiversity, or representative of
a true environmentalist.
that's not what we do at all. Many of our scientists
work in countries around the world, where their primary
goal is building local capacity so that people can deal
with their own sustainability issues on their own terms.
These efforts are especially strong in Madagascar, Tanzania,
Vietnam, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, as well as Central
America. Doesn't really have a thing to do with corporations,
here or there... Just with people and conservation.
We've just initiated a new Center for Conservation and
Sustainable Development. Of course Monsanto supports
the garden, as they do all other cultural institutions
in St. Louis, as well as (for example) the American
Museum in New York, the Field Museum, the Smithsonian,
and so forth. Would you think better of them if they
didn't support us? I was once married to a Monsanto
employee, but now divorced; guilt by association (assuming
Monsanto is proved guilty) is a peculiar concept for
the 21st century! Send us your address and we'll be
able to send you some more material on our programs,
if you're interested. Sorry you got such an impression
-- just not what we do at all.
Isabella Christensen asked:
understand that there is research currently underway
at the University of Louisville aimed at eventually
being able to synthesize/duplicate the enzyme RuBisCo
(Ribulose Bisphosphate) that is specific to green plants.
I worry that, if they are successful, humans will give
even less consideration and care to the conservation
of the planet's plant-life. I am curious to know your
thoughts about this...thanks!
are important in many ways other than photosynthesis.
They are the backbone of all communities and ecosystems,
protect soil and water, provide shelter for other organisms,
food of diverse kinds (directly and indirectly), have
a wide metabolic diversity that can be used for products
of interest such as drugs, and are just plain beautiful,
-- we like to have them in our lives. So even if in
the very long term we can find substitutes for photosynthesis,
we'll never find substitutes for plants!
Judith Smith asked:
Mr. Raven, I was very interested to hear your comments
to Alan Alda in the interview. As a 6th grade science
teacher I try to teach students to appreciate the natural
world. Is there one thing, simply put, that you think
we should be teaching our students about what they can
do to improve what we, as adults, have failed to do?
involved in understanding the local environment seems
clearly to be the best stimulus for primary-school students,
so learning about the local woodlot, prairie, or park,
and the organisms that make it up tends to involve them
for a lifetime of concern. Then most of the things that
they can do concern waste, being conservative about
energy, water, and the other things that we use to support
our lives. Lots of interest there, and lots that everyone
can learn about and do. By using less -- less energy,
water, all substances -- and by doing so wisely, we'll
leave more room for everything else in the world, and
for the natural beauty that surrounds and inspires us.
Many books are available on saving during our everyday
activities, and the involvement in nature around us
is easy to achieve and endlessly satisfying.
David Di Gennaro asked:
a vegetarian diet be a simple and very effective way
to reduce and, even, eliminate global destruction by
humans? Thank you, Dr. Raven.
and for many people it is highly satisfactory. Stored
energy in plants is reduced to about a tenth in the
animals that consume the plants, so clearly ten times
as much food is available for a vegetarian. But anyone
who becomes a vegetarian or vegan should be even more
careful that the rest of us about achieving a balanced
Rose Ann Hambacker asked:
your opinion what are the top environmental organizations
to join? I am writing for my two sons currently in the
Air Force. Also, for an older person like me. Thank
them and see which appeal to you personally, in terms
of their activities and their political philosophy.
There are organizations that will appeal to anyone interested
in nature and the world. Among the major national ones
are the Audubon society, the Nature Conservancy, the
World Wildlife Fund, The Sierra Club, Environmental
Defense, the National Resources Defense Council, Defenders
of Wildlife, as well as many local organizations such
as zoos and botanical gardens that pursue conservation
objectives. But find one that satisfies you, and support
it: that's the important thing!
can an ordinary citizen do to assist in preserving this
conservative in using energy and water; use less while
maintaining a standard of life that you appreciate.
Work to preserve the natural beauty and the wildlands,
even modified, around your own community. And promote
Internationalism and an understanding of the needs of
people all around the world in your own family, and
throughout the range of people and groups with whom
you come into contact. Americans need to understand
the world, and especially the poorer, tropical nations
of the world in order to help build a sustainable planet
for us all.
Jerome McDermott asked:
am constantly reminded of my helplessness to assist
in making this a better world every time I place my
garbage canister at my curb. What can I do to minimize
the harm we are causing to our world. I don't ask for
all the junk mail! I don't demand three, sometimes four
times the necessary packaging I end up with when I buy
products! I feel ultimately helpless. Is there a web
site your institution operates or a society that I might
join? I am only "one", but I am very concerned at the
destruction even I likely am causing. Thank you for
your efforts in making all of us aware of the interactive
nature of our world. I am beginning to believe that
a butterfly flapping its wings in my backyard really
does affect someone else's world thousands of miles
are not helpless at all; Americans consume about a quarter
of what the world produces, although we have only about
one twentieth of the world's people. By limiting consumption
here, we are making a real contribution to stability
in the U.S. and throughout the world. Keep after it,
and find new ways to live conservatively. Another important
area will be promoting an understanding of peoples all
over the world, by visiting them, and using this understanding
as a basis for positive engagement with them. They need
and deserve our support as we work together for a sustainable
Steve Ziemak asked:
recently read The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken,
and I was very moved by some of the ideas he presented.
In particular, the idea of green fees, or taxes on natural
resource use, seems to be a good way to encourage a
national economy (especially that of the U.S.) to promote
environmental sustainability through already established
free-market mechanisms. How do you view green fees,
and do you see them as being able to help preserve the
agree entirely with the views expressed by Paul Hawken
with his co-authors, and believe that these would be
objectives towards which we can all logically work.
Selling ourselves gasoline at about two-thirds of what
we paid in 1945 (in constant dollars) and expecting
it never to increase in price is a recipe for disaster.