Vibrator-game story a hit

Buy the rainforest!

As part of my fellowship at MIT, I got a chance today to hang out with Edward O. Wilson, the scientist publicly known as the founder of sociobiology. But he’s also the world-wide expert in ants, and has become increasingly interested in biodiversity. He is thus, understandably, totally freaked about the extinction of species worldwide.

And I’m not talking just about bald eagles — I’m talking about bacteria, of which there are gazillions of species, most of them whose function we barely know, but whom we figure are pretty essential to life. Historically, biologists figure, one species per million species has become extinct each year. New species have emerged at roughly the same rate, so biodiversity has until now been pretty much preserved. But with global deforestation so rampant, we’re now killing 100 species per million each year. And that’s a very conservative estimate. Many environmentalists — Wilson included — figure it’s way the heck worse: More like 10,000 species per year.

But there’s an interesting new solution to this (which Wilson writes about in his new book The Future of Life. ).

Deforestation is a result of huge logging companies going into developing countries and buying up logging rights; because the countries are so poor, they’re understandably happy to get money from anywhere. And it used to be that environmentalists figured the multi-billion-dollar forestry industry was fated always to win, because they have, well, multi-billions of dollars. You can’t fight that, right?

Actually, you can. “It turns out that those logging companies operate on incredibly slim margins,” Wilson told me. “So it’s pretty easy to outbid them.” Forestry is a volume business — the price they fetch for the lumber isn’t much more than the cost of cutting it down. So the companies will go in to a country like Suriname and offer them $5 million for logging rights in an area. Environmental organizations — like Conservation International — started going in and offering $6 million. And it turns out those massive logging companies can’t afford the extra million. Their profit is already so slender, they have to walk away. Presto: The logging rights belong to environmentalists.

“We sat down one day and figured out how much it would cost do to the same with all the 25 ‘hotspots’ in the world — the places where the forest has about 44 per cent of all plant species on the planet,” he says. “It’s $28 billion. That’s a one-time cost. That’s totally doable. It wouldn’t cripple the global economy. The global economy would barely notice.”

Jesus, sign me up. I’m going to go out and buy some rainforest.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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