Date: October 4, 2011

Our guest tonight on the phone is Peter Sale, an ecologist awho is Assistant Director of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health in Hamilton, Ontario. He has taught at Sydney University, the University of New Hampshire, and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Windsor. His book is called Our Dying Planet: An Ecologist’s View of the Crisis We Face.

Listen to the Program

Part I: Our Dying Planet

  • Could you begin by telling us about United Nations University and the institute where you work?
  • How are you aligned with the U.N.?  What areas/issues does the institute investigate?  
  • Why did you decide to write this book? It’s called “our DYING planet”. Is the situation really that severe?
  • You have been studying planetary ecology throughout your career, and the ecology of coral reefs is your particular area of expertise. Tell us a bit of your history with reefs.
    • You’ve called reefs particularly fragile and a canary in the ecological mine. What does the future hold for reefs?
    • Which of our various impacts is most critical for coral reefs: overfishing, pollution, climate change, tourism, cruise ships, acidification, others?
    • There are some success stories with coral reefs that have been brought back from the brink. Could you tell us about some of these? What lessons can we learn from those stories?
  • To get back to larger picture of the “dying” planet of: How will the various imacts you’ve mentioned (and others) affect the total ecosystem?
    • Focus on the complexity of “overfishing”-loss of diversity, older fish, the whole ecology of the ocean.
  • Can we predict the sum total of environmental impacts? You emphasize in your book that we can’t just focus on one ecosystem at a time. Exponential change.
  • What’s the future of the planet if we don’t change the pattern? The dodo, the polar bear.

Part II: Reversing the Trends

This is Ecotopia on KZFR and we’re talking with Peter Sale of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment, and Health in Hamilton, Ontario. His book is called Our Dying Planet. We know that you don’t consider the situtation totally hopeless. In this segment, we’d like to talk with you about steps we can take to reverse the decline of our ecosystems.

  • In one chapter, you discuss “our unrealistic belief in the balance of nature.” What has been our belief and why is it unrealistic? How have we understimated the effects? Butterfly effect?
  • You talk a bit about the ‘human footprint’ being too large. What is the human footprint? How is it possible to use more than the Earth produces? What will happen if we continue to behave as at present?
  • Eventually, the planet will run out of oil. Is this a partial “solution” to healing the planet–that we’ll have no choice but to cut emissions?
  • You have a chapter on the human population, and suggest that it will be very difficult to deal with our impacts on the natural world without addressing this ‘problem’. What is the problem here, and what right do you have, as a marine ecologist, to discuss solutions to human population growth?
  • Your final chapter describes alternative futures–plural. Please tell us a little about the range of futures you forsee and the major variables that could lead to them. Four choices for the future:
  • Belvedere–me first, “colonialism at a new level”
  • Woodstock–cut back on environmental usage
  • Technopolis–techfixes, including alternative methods of food production–invent ourselves out of our dilemna
  • New Atlantis–“…use our technological expertise and ethical principles to build a civilization that lives in harmony with the natural world while still aspiring to fosster all the creative exuberance of which humanity is capable,” valuing “every human lifewhile actively constraining our natural capacity to grow more abudant.” (287)
  • Given the enormous amount of research you have done, are you optimistic at all about the future of humankind and the planet?
  • What recommendations do you have for listeners who want to take a more active hand in saving our dying planet?

Our guest has been Peter F. Sale, author of Our Dying Planet: An Ecologist’s View of the Crisis We Face, just released by the University of California Press. If you are interested in learning more about his work at the Institute for Water, Environment, and Health go to You can read more about his book at, and

Thank you Peter Sale.