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6 Animal L. 193 (2000)
A House on Fire: Linking the Biological and Linguistic Diversity Crises

handle is hein.journals/anim6 and id is 201 raw text is: A HOUSE ON FIRE:
When you lose a language, it's like dropping a bomb on a museum.1
We are accelerating toward a calamity unparalleled in planetary history
.... These are crucial years for us to act, as the Library of Life burns furi-
ously around us, throughout the world.2
Although it is a truism among conservation biologists that human-
ity is in the midst of the Earth's sixth great extinction spasm, overt
public awareness of the crisis is dim, and understanding of its implica-
tions even dimmer. The house is burning down around us, and even as
the beams begin to cave in, we have but the vaguest intuition of the
enormity of the danger. How is it possible to ignore the biosphere
careening toward an extinction catastrophe unparalleled not only in
the brief span of human history, but in the last sixty-five million years
of life on Earth? The question is not entirely rhetorical. It places us
before the most profound and difficult task facing the environmental
movement: how to reach through the maze of denial, information over-
load, biological disassociation, cynical politics, and economic struggle
to turn our fellow humans toward the fire consuming plants, animals,
and the ecosystems without which life, including our own, cannot
The biodiversity knowledge gap is one part of the problem. A re-
cent poll revealed a steady decline in the understanding of the extinc-
tion crisis from researchers to teachers to the public.3 Scientists rated
overpopulation and biodiversity loss to be greater problems than ozone
depletion, global warming, or pollution.4 Seventy percent of scientists
* Science and Policy Director, Center for Biological Diversity.
1 Robert L. Hotz, The Struggle to Save Dying Languages, LAL Tivms, Jan. 25, 2000,
at Al (quoting Kenneth Hale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
2 Gregory Benford, Saving the 'Library of Life, 89 PRoc. NATL. AcD. Sci., 11,098-
101 (1992).
3 Louis HARmS & Assocs., BIODIVERSITY IN THE NFicr MAU ,Ei.t (1998). This is a
poll produced for the American Museum of Natural History, New York.
4 Id


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