Nature Blog Network Future Earth: Passing the baton in the human race

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Passing the baton in the human race

Over four million years ago our ancestral "Ardi" walked (yes, walked) around in what is now Ethiopia.

Over three million years ago "Lucy" died a short distance further south.

About 20,000 years ago, further down the Rift, on the western side in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, the "Ishango bone" was being used and marked by early hominids, teasing their decendents trying to interpret this early maths.

In the late 1980s, Greg Laden was tackling postgraduate research in Archaeology and Biological Anthropology in the Semiliki region of Eastern DRC. At the same time a 5 year old was running wild in this same region, where his family were working with chimps and gorillas.

The early gasps of the 21st Century took Hans Herren, President of the Millennium Institute as a guest lecturer to Cambridge University, scanning the horizon for our changing planet. One of his recommendations was that we needed more under 25s in positions of decision-making as the rest of us were managing to ignore the impending crises of climate, agriculture, energy, food security and population.

Today a group of under 25s gathered in the leafy surrounds of Imperial College's Silwood Park as Masters candidates, about to commit themselves to Biodiversity & Conservation Science, Evolutionary Biology, Population and Community Ecology, Environmental Technology and more. How many of them can be persuaded out of the forests and labs, into the corridors of power? At the very least, can they be sure to communicate and inform, not only by peer-reviewed science, but also by translating it to the voting public?

One of the new postgraduates was that wild child in eastern Zaire. He and top science blogger Greg Laden are now linked by the twittering blogosphere that is spreading general knowledge on evolutionary science in all its infinite variety. I have a sense of baton passing, and renewed hope that the current crop of conservation biologists will run that extra mile. Frustration though that the last crop did not manage to stop the finishing line being brought forward and the track being made into an obstacle course.

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