Change the world


Emeritus and distinguished Botany Professor, Richard Cowling, published a position essay on biodiversity conservation in response to an invitation from the world’s most prestigious science institution, The Royal Society (London).

To strengthen the scientific evidence base on biodiversity and make this available to policy-makers, The Royal Society has commissioned a series of essays from global experts in fields as diverse as biology, conservation, ecology, environment, economics and population.  These are intended to stimulate discussion on the problems and potential solutions to arrest and reverse the decline in biodiversity. 

The Royal Society explains that “at its simplest, biodiversity is about living nature or life on Earth - different genes, species and ecologies and, as a consequence, the varying landscapes, regions and habitats in which they exist. 

“Biodiversity provides food, water and shelter; influences climate; controls disease; and regulates nutrient and water cycles.  Biodiversity is integral to spiritual, cultural, psychological and artistic well-being.  It also has its own intrinsic worth distinct from human life. Humans are embedded in the natural world, and so a part of biodiversity.”

In the introduction to his essay “Behaviours for conserving biodiversity” Prof Cowling quotes the Father of Biodiversity, American biologist EO Wilson: “The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology.”

Prof Cowling’s conclusion is that humans are facing an existential crisis.  The resources that sustain us are being degraded at exponential rates that most humans find hard to comprehend cognitively.  Conservation scientists need to change the ways in which knowledge is generated and communicated. They need to become engaged in the “messy, social processes of mainstreaming biodiversity into all sectors of society.

“And we must work with social marketers to ensure that this knowledge is widely diffused in a way that engenders behaviour change outside of our learning organisations. By adopting these approaches, conservation scientists can contribute to the cultural revolution required for safeguarding the Earth’s biodiversity’ he says.

Link to the full essay:


Contact information
Prof Richard Cowling
Research Professor