American Museum Of Natural History’s Thirteenth Annual Environmental Lecture and Luncheon

On 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.

Chairwoman Mary Solomon (standing) and Kristy Harteveldt (right)
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.

There was 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.
Payne Middleton, Giulio, Honorary Chairmen Charlotte and Ottavio Serena di Lapigio
Honorary Chairwoman Eileen Pulling, Katherine McEnroe, and friend
Stephen and Connie Spahn (Chairwoman)
Lorinda de Roulet, Nancy Fessenden, and Craig Morris
Joan Jakobson and Honorary Chairwoman Jacqueline Garrett
Connie Spahn, Anna Quindlen, Distinguished McKnight University Professor Dr. David Tilman, and Curator in the Museum’s Ichthyology Department Dr. Melanie Stiassny
Vice Chairwoman Barbara Hemmerle Gollust and Kim Heirston
Chairmen Mary Solomon and Connie Spahn, Museum President Ellen V. Futter, and Vice Chairwoman Susan Rudin
David and Mary Solomon
Dr. Melanie Stiassny, Ellen V. Futter, Calvin Trillin, Anna Quindlen, and Dr. David Tilman
Suzette de Marigny Smith and Jacqueline Garrett
Stacey Lane, Mary Solomon, and Lisanne Godnick
Mary Solomon and Phoebe Cates Kline
Ellen V. Futter, Irma Milstein, and Anna Quindlen
Libby Pataki and Mary Evans
Connie and Blake Spahn with Maryll Feild
Suzanne Cochran and Susan Rudin
Dr. David Tilman and Charlene Marshall
Charlene Marshall
Christy Ferrer and Jane Hanson
Ellen V. Futter and Libby Pataki


Photographs by D. Finnin/American Museum of Natural History.

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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com