George Schaller is interviewed by John G. Mitchell in the October National Geographic. George Schaller, at 73, "is one of the world's preeminent field biologists." He works to establish wildlife sanctuaries and preserves around the world. He says, "It is tremendously worrisome that we don't talk about nature anymore. We talk about natural resources as if everything has a price tag." He says about 95 percent of Alaska's North Slope has already been opened for oil leases. Some haven't even been drilled yet, but the oil companies are trying to get into the refuge, because if they get in there, they can get in anywhere. He asks what kind of people we are if we can't save 5%.
Mitchell asks: Where do you think we're headed with global warming?
You can argue endlessly over how much is natural climate change and how much is caused by humans. But the fact is, climate is changing very rapidly, and the scientific consensus is that much of it is caused by people burning fossil fuels. If you raised the fuel efficiency of cars to 40 miles per gallon, which is perfectly feasible, and you eliminated the special deals for SUVs, each year you would save ten times as much oil as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would likely produce. This is what's very peculiar. We are supposed to have an educated public, but where is it? Our schools and universities have failed to instill an environmental awareness. Conservationists have also failed. All you hear from some of them these days is talk of "sustainable development."
Do you have a problem with the idea of sustainable development - finding ways to use but not deplete natural resources in national parks and reserves?
There are certain natural treasures in each country that should be treated as treasures, and it is up to conservation organizations to fight on behalf of the special places. Too many of these organizations have lost sight of their purpose. Their purpose is not to alleviate poverty or help sustainable development. Their purpose must be to save national treasures. What are we going to do? Invite the homeless to move into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Taj Mahal? Those are cultural treasures. It's the same with the Serengeti, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Virunga volcanoes with their mountain gorillas. I've heard some conservation organizations argue that local people should have the right to manage those reserves and use them as they please. Well, I consider that utter nonsense. It is tremendously worrisome that we don't talk about nature anymore. We talk about natural resources as if everything had a price tag. You can't buy spiritual values at a shopping mall. The things that uplift the spirit - an old-growth forest, a clear river, the flight of a golden eagle, the howl of a wolf, space and quiet without motors - are intangibles. Those are the values that people do look for and that everyone needs.