State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Sustaining Life, Securing Our Future: A Symposium Celebrating the Diversity of Life on Earth

In diversity, lies the majesty and security of our world….

The Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC) was founded on the basis that a sustainable world is one that is biologically rich and vibrant. The magnificent beauty and diversity of life on Earth has always been of tremendous value to all people. Our commitment to research, conservation, and education celebrates this value, advancing the stewardship of biodiversity to ensure our collective and individual prosperity and security. Our food, energy, and water supplies, our health, cultural identity and wellbeing, and even the stability of our climate depend vitally on biodiverse habitats and ecosystems.

CERC is Columbia University’s voice of the living world and the Earth Institute’s principal center for the study of all life on Earth and its role in sustainable development, poverty alleviation, and improving human wellbeing. As a consortium of five world-renowned scientific and cultural institutions, the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University, the New York Botanical Garden, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the EcoHealth Alliance, CERC conducts research and promotes education and training in over 60 countries – impacting people and communities, colleagues and fellow researchers, students, citizen scientists, educators, and practitioners alike.

On March 1st, 2011, CERC will host Sustaining Life, Securing Our Future, a day-long symposium that brings together leaders in biodiversity research, conservation, and education to present on the extraordinary diversity of the natural world and its role in securing a sustainable future. The day’s panels will discuss the range of efforts to study, conserve, and effectively communicate the importance of biodiversity and the services it provides towards supporting all life on Earth.

Panel 1: The Future of Life: How ten million species can help us achieve a sustainable future?
Moderated by Shahid Naeem (E3B, CERC)
Panelists: Daniel Botkin (Prof Emeriti UC Santa Barbara), Jim Miller (NYBG)

At a time of unprecedented environmental change, where humanity’s impact on the natural world is present everywhere, we face important questions about the way forward. Questions of what will happen to the tens of millions of species who have kept us company throughout our history; how can we maintain intact and productive ecosystems amidst rapid development; how will the loss of biological diversity impact pollination, pest control, and disease outbreaks; and, how can ecosystem services be used to reduce poverty and human suffering? These are the imperatives of the current environmental research community.

Panel 1 brings together researchers and practitioners to address these questions and discuss the impacts of a world devoid of biological diversity, and offer a vision of a future that is simultaneously biologically diverse, and where peoples’ needs for food, water and energy are met and poverty and disease are eradicated. The discussions will feature key CERC activities in areas such as valuing ecosystem goods and services, improving the understanding of the function of biodiversity in natural systems, redesigning landuse through geo-spatial mapping, understanding the role of biodiversity where ecological health is most at risk and addressing the role of biodiversity as a tool of adapting to climate change.

Panel 2: CONSERVING the World’s Biodiversity: Global and Local Perspectives
Moderated by Eleanor Sterling (AMNH)
Panelists: Jon Paul Rodrigues (IUCN Ecosystem Redlist) , Alonso Aguirre (EcoHealth Alliance), Matthew Palmer (E3B), Carter Ingram (WCS)

Humans have managed the natural world around them for thousands of years, but their practices, goals, and perspectives have changed dramatically. We continue to manage locally and regionally but environmental sustainability increasingly requires us to think and act globally. Nowhere is this truer than conservation. Whether it is single species conservation (such as saving the panda or polar bear), habitat restoration, sustainable use of natural resources, the establishment of parks, protected areas, botanical gardens, zoos, and more, all represent local efforts that today frequently involve international cooperation or global agreements.

In Panel 2, conservation practitioners, academics, and policy makers will address questions on how conservation practices and perspectives will be impacted in an increasingly globalized world. The panel will take a broad geographical perspective, including Africa, Asia and North and South America where CERC consortium organizations help guide and inform conservation and management programs across a wide range of scales.

Panel 3: A New Framework for Environmental Literacy
Moderated by Nancy Degnan (CERC)
Panelists: Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez (CERC), Michael Pippenger (Columbia College); Robert Newton (Lamont-Doherty)

Whether it is the arts, humanities, or sciences, our understanding of the world around us undergoes periodic revolutions in which new knowledge frameworks emerge. This is particularly true for conservation and environmental research in part because its subject, the living world, has been altered so extensively in just the last century. With each new research project and each new tool, ideas about nature and our relationship to the natural world are transformed. And, while we are constantly developing new frameworks for environmental knowledge, it is of the utmost importance to make sure these tools and ideas extend beyond the scientific community and contribute to environmental literacy.

Authentic environmental literacy is dependent on bridging research and education. For CERC, education has encompassed groups of “stakeholders”, including: citizens and community participants, K-12 teachers and pupils, undergraduate and graduate students, practitioners, and policy and decision-makers within the public and private sectors. The fundamental premise is that scientists and nonscientists all have a role in achieving an environmental sustainable future.

Panel 3 will address core issues and practice in CERC’s approach to applied research, education and training. Panelists will discuss their experiences and current strategies to work in an interdisciplinary and systems approach to define and capture emergent knowledge surrounding cutting-edge scientific research and environmental literacy. Panelists will also discuss the advantages/disadvantages of technology’s impact on data, curriculum design and development across secondary, higher and executive education and its influence in the future of environmental education and training.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
James Stephen Mastaler
13 years ago

This looks like a great event!

13 years ago

[…] chick has small pox nodules on the face and eyelid. An important topic that emerged during Sustaining Life, Securing Our Future, a daylong symposium by CERC, concerned the role of biodiversity in reducing the affect of viruses […]