Eöffnungsrede von Ruth Eichhorn (GEO-Magazin Deutschland)
might think that mankind has more important things to do than trying to
save the Folding Door Spider (Antrodiaetidae) from disappearing forever
from the face of our Earth.
At least that's what a number of people would like us to believe. Especially
some journalists who never seem to question that headline-conscious tycoons
with single-cell brains are entitled to exist, but who wouldn't mind the
idea of transferring the Northern common house mosquito to the list of
highly endangered species. Not that we at GEO magazine dont understand
how this is possible. Being journalists ourselves. We do.
But then, lets not forget: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Therefore we thought it might not be such a bad idea to take a second
look and to invite you, courageously, to this exhibition.
It deals with unimposing (discrete) beings. And only visitors with an
eye for details will discover that remarkable creatures and interesting
habitats do not only exist in the communities of homo sapiens.
You have had a short opportunity to see some of the images we selected
for this exhibition. And I must admit that it is a little weird for a
photo editor to introduce a photo show for organisms people normally can
hardly see. At least not with the naked eye.
In a world threatened by terrorism, it can seem frivolous to talk about
tiny plants and animals, many of us have never even heard of. In this
age of information overload a crisis had better be really serious, big
and immediate if it wants our attention.
In the glare of cameras and media attention, bombs will always steal
the show from problems that burn with a much slower fuse. War, natural
disasters, corporate scandals: they provide dramatic headlines against
which issues like sustainable development pale in comparison. Preventing
climate disasters or ensuring sustainable development is a lot less glamorous
and a whole lot more complicated than the marriage problems of Victoria
and David Beckham. And discussing the loss of biodiversity is a whole
lot quieter than the upcoming election in this country.
But the lack of gripping headlines concerning the steady loss of biodiversity
underlines, in a way, how big a problem we face. It is a subject too big
for our attention span. But it makes it all the more important that we
make an effort to understand. All the more vital that we look closely
at the causes and effects. Just because this story doesnt come in
news-bite sizes doesnt make it any less important.
Let me take a moment to explain why we at GEO took the time to create
the exhibit to which we are welcoming you today. It all began with a project
called the GEO-Tag der Artenvielfalt or Biodiversity Day.
The first GEO Biodiversity Day took place in 1999. Each event has the
same goal: to take a small segment of the European landscape and make
a meticulous inventory of all of the plant and animal species found there
during 24 hours. This provides us with valuable data on the state of nature
in that area. It gives us a baseline for later comparisons, and it allows
us to compare the health of one region with another.
The main event, held annually on the first weekend in June, has become
a sort of summit meeting of biodiversity experts and an informal exchange
program for many of the worlds foremost botanists and zoologists.
But those are really only extra benefits to the main purpose.
The more important aspect is the broad participation in our events. Experts,
interested novices, and schoolchildren took part in over 200 GEO Biodiversity
Day-related events in 2002. In Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium,
Luxemburg, and in Italy. We even had small events in China and, together
with the GTZ, events in Columbia and Brazil. Between 10,000 and 20,000
All of this shows how successful the GEO Biodiversity Day has become.
It is now the largest field research event of its kind in Western and
We believe that it helps build awareness to the fact that nature is all
around us. Its not just something that happens in rain forests,
national parks, or on the Discovery Channel. It happens on rooftops, in
the middle of traffic circles, in your backyard.
Our partners have taken our idea and made it their own. Whole cities
now organize entire weeks of events. Youth groups and environmental associations
are participating, institutes, museums, universities. In several German
states, or Länder, we even have received the support of the environment
ministries. These groups have formed a large network to which we are fortunate
enough to have recently added the German Ministry of Environmental Protection
as well as the GTZ.
Perhaps the most exciting achievementif I may briefly speak in
the language of headlines and news bites for a minutewas our event
last year along the so-called Green Band. The Green Band is the long strip
of land on which the Wall stood that used to separate East Germany from
West Germany. During its forty years as no-mans land, it developed
into a sanctuary for a remarkably diverse number of plants and animals,
many of them endangered. After our event which highlighted the regions
natural habitat, the German federal government agreed to donate some of
the areas to the Länder, or states, on the condition that they protect
it as a park. In Germany, nature conservation is a task for the Länder,
not the federal government.
Protecting and managing our natural resources should become as habitual
for us as protecting our historical monuments. Subsidizing the protection
of genetic resources of nature should be seen as being as important as
subsidizing our opera. Protecting biodiversity doesnt mean learning
to appreciate the twelve types of cockroaches infesting the area under
your sink. It means protecting what we know and treading softly on that
which we dont. It means protecting the vast web of life we depend
on but of which we can often only see the tip of. And perhaps most importantly,
in the context of this exhibit, biodiversity needs to be understood as
a remarkable economic treasure which, if well managed in the developing
nations that are blessed with it, can represent a way for those nations
to allow their citizens to build a better future for themselves while
safeguarding their surroundings.
I think we can all agree that this kind of win-win situation is best
for all. But if we want to mix ecology with the economy, we have to be
able to compare them in like terms. This raises a question with profound
economic and philosophical implications for mankind and our collective
future: what is biodiversity worth? Is saving the spotted owl worth thousands
of logging jobs in the Pacific Northwest? What is it worth to mankind
to save an acre of Brazilian rainforest from clear-cutting?
It is not easy to answer these questions. Dont forget that we live
in a world in which the value of a company a well-defined man-made
entity - can vary by billions of dollars in the course of a single day.
But the difficulty of reconciling the abstract values of nature with
the immediate concerns of development should not deter us from making
the start. The longer the journey, the more important it is that we begin
as soon as possible.
This exhibit wont solve any of these problemshow should itbut
I do hope that it will give you an impression of some of our projects
that aim to do something more than nothing.
At the very least, enjoy the pictures.