Scott A. Margolin '99 Lecture in Environmental Affairs

The 2014 Scott A. Margolin '99 Lecture in Environmental Affairs

Saving Life on Earth: A Moral Rejoinder to the Anthropocene

Kierán Suckling
Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity
Wednesday, March 12, 7:00p
Robert A. Jones ’59 House conference room

Humans have transformed the earth, its atmosphere, and even the ocean depths so profoundly that some have proposed renaming our geological epoch the Anthropocene, or Age of Man. Nature, to this way of thinking, is no longer the predominant reality; the planet is primarily shaped by human cities, agriculture, and waste.

Our greatest and most ethically disturbing impact has been the mass extinction of other species. Thousands of plants and animals, many of which had survived millions of years of climate change and calamity, have been driven extinct in the past two centuries. Thousands more are on the brink of oblivion with some groups, including large predators and amphibians going extinct up to ten thousand times faster than the natural rate. If current trends continue, the earth will soon pass into the sixth greatest extinction crisis in the 3.5 billion history of life, and the only one caused by a single, globally dominant species.

Recognizing our extraordinary global impact, however, in no way requires naming the current geological time in honor of ourselves. Doing so will exacerbate anthropocentrism rather than cultivate sensitivity to the ethical call of other species. Indeed, naming the “current” geological period the “Age of Man” is nothing new. It is the most traditional of anthropocentric gestures, something every generation has done since the discovery that the planet has ages in the eighteenth century. Anthropocene thinking is the cause of the extinction crisis, not its solution.

Within the next 30 years, opportunities to save wild places from development and wild animals from extinction will dwindle toward zero as the human population grows to 10 billion. Our generation, therefore, has a vast ethical duty to preserve as much habitat and as many species as possible in our lifetime. There is no higher calling. Luckily, we have the knowledge, the means and the moral imperative to succeed.

Kierán Suckling founded and is the Executive Director of Center for Biological Diversity. In addition to overseeing its conservation and financial programs, he created and maintains the country's most comprehensive endangered species database. Kierán acts as liaison between the Center and other environmental groups, negotiates with government agencies, and writes and lectures; he has authored scientific articles and critical essays on biodiversity issues. He holds a master's in philosophy from the State University of New York at Stonybrook and a bachelor's from Holy Cross. 


About the Scott A. Margolin '99 Lecture in Environmental Affairs

This annual lecture, like the Environmental Studies Program, takes an interdisciplinary approach to the natural environment and human interaction with it.

In 1998, the Environmental Affairs Lecture was named in honor of Scott A. Margolin, of the Middlebury College Class of 1999. In his one year here, Scott established himself as a dedicated student of Environmental Studies, a leader in Environmental Quality and other student affairs, and an outstanding writer. He lives in our memory.

Past Speakers:

2014 - Kierán Suckling, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity (video)

2013 - Rob Nixon, Rachel Carson & Elizabeth Ritzmann Professor of English, University of Wisconsin - Madison (video)

2012 - Jerome Nriagu, professor of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan School of Public Health (video)

2011 - Antwi Akom, professor of Urban Sociology and Africana Studies, San Francisco State University

2010 - John Elder, professor of Environmental Studies and English and American Literature, Middlebury College (video)

2009 - Dr. P. Dee Boersma, Professor of Biology, University of Washington (video)

2008 - Gus Speth, Dean, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (video)

2007 - Barry Lopez, essayist and nature writer

2006 - Michael E. Mann, Director, Penn State Earth System Science Center (video)

2005 - Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

2004 - J. Baird Callicott, professor of philosophy, University of North Texas

2003 - Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University

2002 - Michael Dombeck, Former Chief of the United States Forest Service

2001 - Lawrence Buell, English Professor, Harvard University

2000 - Reed Noss, conservation biologist

1999 - Michael MacCracken, US Global Change Research Program

1998 - Rick Bass, writer and activist

1997 - Joseph Bruchac, Abenaki storyteller

1996 - Steven Schneider, environmental scientist

1995 - David Orr, environmental educator

1994 - Terry Tempest Williams, writer

1993 - Walter Reid, environmental scientist

1992 - William Cronon, environmental historian

1991 - Scott Russell Sanders, writer

1990 - Norman Myers, environmental scientist

1989 - Madeleine Kunin, Governor of Vermont