The Anthropocene and the Future of Nature
In the last 50 years it has become clear that humans are significantly altering the planet, changing the composition and the temperature of the atmosphere, the chemistry of the oceans, and the rich diversity of natural resources of the Earth. The recognition of the scale and pervasiveness of human influence on planetary conditions is the most important shift in how we see ourselves today.
Our effects on the planet, and knowledge of these effects, put us in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene: the Age of Humans. Humans are only one of more than ten million species of plants, animals, and microorganisms that inhabit the planet. Our impact on this intricate constellation of species, their complex interactions, and the environments in which they live, and the threat it represents, is increasing every day. Maintaining a close personal connection with the coevolved neighborhood of species will be the biggest challenge for humans living in the Anthropocene and, ultimately, will define the future of Nature.
W. John Kress is Interim Under Secretary for Science at the Smithsonian and Distinguished Scientist and Curator of Botany at the National Museum of Natural History. Previously, he was Director of the Smithsonian Consortium for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet.
John pioneered the development and use of DNA barcodes for studying plants. He is an author on more than 150 scientific and popular papers on tropical botany, and he is an author on several books, including the authoritative text: DNA Barcodes Methods and Protocols; Heliconia: An Identification Guide; Heliconias – Las Lamaradas de la Selva Colombiana; A New Century of Biology; Plant Conservation – A Natural History Approach; The Ornaments of Life, Coevolution and Conservation in the Tropics; and The Weeping Goldsmith. He also was the botanical leader on a team from Columbia University and the University of Maryland that developed Leafsnap, a tree identification smart-phone app that won the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Award. He has mentored many graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, and more than 30 undergraduate interns and summer students at the Smithsonian.
John is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has been an Adjunct Professor at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, and at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Among other honors, he received the Parker/Gentry Award for Excellence and Innovation in Conservation and Environmental Biology from the Field Museum, and he has been named an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation.
He earned a BA at Harvard and a PhD at Duke University where he studied tropical biology, ethnobotany, evolution, pollination ecology, and plant systematics.