Museum Of Natural History’s Thirteenth Annual Environmental
Lecture and Luncheon
Thursday, April 10, The American Museum of Natural History held their
13th Annual Spring Environmental Lecture and Luncheon. This
annual event is one of the best of its kind in New York, attracting
top experts and authorities in the subject of discussion. This year
the lecture was a panel discussion, moderated by Anna Quindlen,
with panelists Calvin Trillin, Dr. Melanie Stiassny,
Axelrod Curator in the Museum's Department of Ichthyology, and
Dr. David Tilman, Distinguished McKnight University Professor,
Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota,
and Director of the Cedar Creek Natural History Area.
The lecture was
held in the beautiful new Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Theater. The
lightest aspect of the message, as it always is at these luncheons
is: vigilance. This year’s subject was food and water. I repeated
some of what I gleaned from the panel to some friends later on and
all of them felt I was entirely pessimistic about the future of the
human race and the planet. So there you have it in a nutshell.
Mary Solomon (standing) and Kristy Harteveldt (right)
so much information imparted in the nearly one hour discussion that
it would be impossible to report in detail. I took some notes to reflect
what we learned:
• The population of the planet by 2025 will be approximately
9 billion. If we were vegetarians (by nature) we should have enough
food to feed such numbers. However, we are meat-eaters and we would
have to produce twice as much to feed those many of us who eat meat.
• One of the great achievements in the history of civilization
was the doubling of the food production in the past forty years. However
this bonanza is now delivering decreasing returns. More than half
the usable land (for human habitation) is now being used for agriculture.
To feed 9 billion we will need much more land.
• It was also water that made the “green revolution”
of the past forty years possible. With the enormous increase in population,
however, water withdrawal will quadruple. One of the solutions to
growing food on land is the farming of seafood – aquaculture
as it is called. According to Melanie Stiassny of the AMNH, we would
need 9 times the flow of the river Nile to accommodate the aquaculture
we’d need for our food production. There is also the concurrent
problem of increasing pollution of the water.
• Furthermore, the more abundant the organisms we produce, the
more abundant the diseases. Growing animals (beef, fish, chicken)
in such high-density spaces also make us sitting ducks for disease.
Professor Tilman said that AIDS most likely started with humans eating
tainted monkey meat; and that SARS probably comes from chicken, which,
because of the method of growing them, are magnets for bacteria which
pass up through the food chain.
What is hopeful, despite the inability of some people to perceive
it amidst this daunting information is that those individuals such
as Tilman and Stiassny are working to discover what it is we need
to know to find solutions to the problems of continued habitation
of the planet. 2025 sounds like a long ways away until one realizes
that it’s a little more than twenty-one years from now, less
than a third of a lifetime for many who were sitting in the lecture
hall that afternoon.
The AMNH Spring Environmental Lecture and Luncheon is one more example
of how responsible New Yorkers attract the brainpower and creative
thinkers who are the real heroes for sustenance of life on planet
Earth. Getting the messages across is a bit more of a challenge in
itself especially since so many of us prefer to think of the matters
at hand as “over there” or “farther down the road,”
rather than on our front doorstep.
Honorary Chairs were Helen C. Evarts, Jacqueline M. Garrett,
Caroline Macomber, Mrs. Henry B. Middleton, Eileen K. S. Pulling,
and Ottavio and Charlotte Serena di Lapigio.
Vice Chairmen were Laura and Lloyd Blankfein, Lisa M. Eastman,
Barbara Hemmerle Gollust, Laura and Lloyd Blankfein, Lisa M. Eastman,
Barbara Hemmerle Gollust, Georgia Griscom, Kathryn Hearst, Karen K.
Klopp, Susan Kraus, Stacey R. Lane, Karen J. Lauder, Hilary and Ethel
Lipsitz, Stacy Pinelli, Celeste Rault, Susan and Jack Rudin, Nina
Rumbough, Ralph Schlosstein and Jane Hartley, Pat Shifke, Susan Solomon,
Louisa Troubh, Judy Hirsch Weston.