The American biologist EO Wilson was in Britain last week to attend a ground-breaking ceremony on the Isle of Portland in Dorset. The first soil was being turned on the site of what will eventually become the Mass Extinction Monitoring Observatory (MEMO), a collaboration between a British educational charity and Wilson’s own Biodiversity Foundation. The idea is to build a “global beacon for biodiversity” on the south coast, and to this end, MEMO has hired the architect David Adjaye to design a conference centre that will be hewn, on a fairly monumental scale, from the local Portland stone.
When I met Wilson, who is a sprightly 85, in London a couple of days after the ceremony, he told me he sees the work that MEMO and his foundation are doing as a moral crusade. “We have to make species survival a moral issue with transcendent, meaning human-wide, acceptance,” he said. “As long as the other eight to ten million species are regarded as in some way fungible against the needs of people, then they’re going to lose. And despite the best efforts of NGOs and global conservation groups, the rate of species extinction is continuing at a high level, and may even be increasing. We could be dooming ourselves by taking the biosphere to a point of no return—a tipping point. And we don’t seem to be capable of [reversing] it any other way except by making [the preservation of biodiversity] a moral precept.”