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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 and Russia.

A 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 science textbook.


For links to this scientist's home page and other related infomation please see our resources page.

Raven responds :

2.22.01 Steve Swoveland asked:
I 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.

The 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.

Raven's response:
Everything 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 luck!

2.22.01 Robin Pendleton asked:
As 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.

Raven's response:
Yes, 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.

2.22.01 Gwyn Wahlmann asked:
I 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.

Raven's response:
Actually, 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.

2.22.01 Isabella Christensen asked:
I 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!

Raven's response:
Plants 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!

2.22.01 Judith Smith asked:
Dear 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?

Raven's response:
Getting 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.

2.22.01 David Di Gennaro asked:
Wouldn't a vegetarian diet be a simple and very effective way to reduce and, even, eliminate global destruction by humans? Thank you, Dr. Raven.

Raven's response:
Yes, 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 diet.

2.22.01 Rose Ann Hambacker asked:
In 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 you.

Raven's response:
Investigate 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!

2.22.01 Sue asked:
What can an ordinary citizen do to assist in preserving this planet?

Raven's response:
Be 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.

2.22.01 Jerome McDermott asked:
I 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 away.

Raven's response:
You 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 planet.

2.22.01 Steve Ziemak asked:
I 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 environment?

Raven's response:
I 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.

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