Defender of the Plant Kingdom; Great Minds; Exclusive Online Issues; by Tim Beardsley; 2 Page(s)
Peter H. Raven, a man used to looking at the big picture, has a big idea. The 63-year-old scientific diplomat and director of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis was set in August to call on the world's plant scientists, gathered at an international congress, to save the whole plant kingdom from extinction. Raven, for the past two decades a leading advocate for the preservation of biodiversity, predicts that without drastic action, two thirds of the world's 300,000 plant species will be lost during the next century as their habitats are destroyed. Yet he believes that an international commitment to bring vulnerable species into cultivation in botanical gardens, or into seed banks, could avert the catastrophe. "If you are going to give a single valuable present to the people 100 years from now, then saving all the plants might be a very good way of doing it," he says.
Such a grandiose scheme might sound like an idle fantasy. But Raven is a member of 22 academies of science around the globe and has an impressive history of organizing major projects. (His institution provides the headquarters for a network that is already trying to preserve U. S. plants.) He has just stepped down from a 12-year term as home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences, and he chairs the report review committee of the National Research Council, the operating arm of the academies of science, engineering and medicine. In that role he has overseen formal reviews of some 2,200 studies, many on controversial subjects. Raven is "a very good scientific politician and a good negotiator," says Bruce M. Alberts, president of the science academy.