In the 3 decades as a scientific discipline and practice, conservation is facing its greatest crisis. Despite winning many battles, it is losing the extinction war. The planet’s population is expected to rise to 9.6 billion by 2050. With that population growth comes a need for a 70% increase in food availability, coupled with a two-fold to three-fold increase in irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticide use without significant improvement in plant productivity or nutrition. The biggest challenges will not only be the growth in population, but the desire of emerging middle classes for meat, dairy, consumer goods, and energy.
The result of our attempts to meet food security through human modification of our land and oceans has been a dramatic increase in our species extinction rates. The sixth mass extinction rates of species loss are 1,000 times that of background extinction rates, and these rates even exceed other mass extinction events—such as that that killed the dinosaurs—by at least an order of magnitude. One in every four mammals and one in every eight birds now faces a high risk of extinction in the near future. Moreover, 95% of the 1.8 million named species have yet to be evaluated for their conservation status. This loss is happening, even as we have been successful in creating new parks and enclaves to protect species at exponentially increasing rates. The problems of extinction and habitat destruction are increasing exponentially, while our solutions increase incrementally. Conservation has been frequently technophobic, risk-averse, reactionary, intransigent, bureaucratic, and uninspiring. However, just as we are driving extinction, we have the power to reverse it.
This talk looks to the future of conservation and contends that conservation science and practice must shift from being a descriptive, discovery-based science to a field that seeks to engineer solutions, incorporates other disciplines from anthropology to biomedical engineering, harnesses emerging technologies and entrepreneurship, and directly addresses the underlying drivers of extinction, not just its symptoms. The pathway to solving the grand challenges are global opportunities for rethinking food production, cooling & refrigeration, water, building cities, and engineering replacement technologies for underlying drivers of extinction from wildlife trade, to protein.
About the Speaker:
Alex Dehgan is the CEO & co-founder of Conservation X Labs (CXL), a tech startup focused on harnessing exponential technologies, open innovation, and entrepreneurship for creating a pipeline of innovations that address the underlying drivers of extinction. CXL’s work includes launching the first Grand Challenges for Conservation, creating the digital makerspace, a mass collaboration platform for engineering new solutions for conservation, and inventing a new field based handheld microfluidics rapid DNA scanner for combatting wildlife trafficking, detecting pathogens & invasive species, and supporting traceability. Alex is also the Chanler Innovator at Duke University where he teaches innovation for addressing global challenges.
Dr. Alex Dehgan most recently served as the Chief Scientist at the U.S. Agency for International Development, with rank of Assistant Administrator. Alex founded and headed the Office of Science and Technology, and created the vision for and helped launch the Global Development Lab, the Agency’s DARPA for Development. Prior to USAID, Alex worked in multiple positions within the Office of the Secretary of State, and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, at the Dept. of State, including overseas service in Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority rebuilding science, and leading the Obama Administration’s initial scientific diplomacy with Iran under Amb. Dennis Ross. Alex was the founding country director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Afghanistan Program and helped create Afghanistan’s national park system. Alex is the author of the forthcoming book, The Snow Leopard Project, through Public Affairs, an imprint of Perseus Books Group, on this effort.
Host: Ali Douraghy