Author and Research Professor of Natural Sciences at North Carolina State University, Meg Lowman, delivered a talk entitled “Life in the Treetops: Conservation of the World’s Rainforests” at the Convocation on April 22. Her passion and knowledge for environmental issues led her to focus on what she called the “Temperate Bias,” where our mishandling of tropical rainforests can be explained by growing accustomed to living in temperate areas of the world. She emphasized that we rarely go beyond knowing that tropical rainforests “are massive carbon sinks,” and argued that instead we needed a firm knowledge of the tropical environment to combat this bias.
Lowman illustrated that this mishandling of our tropical rainforests is most evident in their rapid destruction. She explained that we “are losing what we discover” – areas like Brazil have seen their rainforests halved in number, while other places, like Madagascar, only have five percent of their rainforests remaining.
She commented on the importance of canopy research, and highlighted that early scientific studies largely ignored the inner workings of the forest because they overlooked the canopy, which Lowman argues “is ninety-five percent of the forest.” She supported this by revealing that half of the insect species in these tropical rainforests live in the canopy, emphasizing exactly what deforestation is doing to these animal populations. Lowman argued that one should view the canopy “like a treasure – like the Louvre.”
Lowman also highlighted the enormous power of everyday people who are mpt biologists or rainforest scientists. She emphasized this by stating that “we as consumers and voters in this developed country can do a lot more than researchers and our publications.” As a result, she realized that those in the field had to adapt to this and thus “change the model of a scientist.” For her, this meant publishing her book Life in the Treetops in 1999, becoming the first woman to write about rainforest conservation.
Lowman stressed the importance of the consumer, stating that the media partnership with her reviewers made it possible to affect officials of major corporations such as Wal-Mart. This illustrated to her the importance of scientific communication: it was important for scientists to use “plain English” to reach the public, which allowed them to identify and use this science, and in turn affect policy-makers who made science-based decisions.
Lowman explained that amidst these kinds of benefits to science and researchers, there is the risk of losing sight of the local populations that inhabit these rainforests. She took the case of a small island off western Somoa, which had no cash economy because they were fully sustained by their rainforests. When they required money to construct a local school, instead of turning to loggers, they worked with a pharmaceutical program to promote ecotourism, which provided them the funds and also preserved their forests. Lowman stressed the importance of scientists and researchers learning and respecting the culture of local inhabitants, for this was a much more effective way of “breaking the barriers that would otherwise occur if we simply came in as Western scientists coming in to ‘do good.’”
In conclusion, Lowman emphasized the importance of preservation of rainforests and its canopies. She sees a strong connection between biological and social issues, and believes the convergence of the two to be very crucial. In continuing to promote the scientific work in field, Lowman argued that education about the rainforest canopies is very necessary, and encouraged more young people – particularly young women – to fully understand and aid the conservation of these natural treasures.