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Print Edition> Lifestyle
UPDATED: January 4, 2011 NO. 1 JANUARY 6, 2011
Exploring the Threat to Biodiversity
Traveling display stops in Beijing for two months

CAREFUL LISTENING: A mother and her daughter intently watched biodiversity videos through the "Listen to the Earth Cone" (COURTESY OF LI KA SHING FOUNDATION)

The "Listen to the Earth" Biodiversity Tour arrived in Beijing on December 22, 2010, after visiting several other Chinese cities. Organized by the Center for Environmental Education and Communications of the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection (CMEP) and sponsored by the Li Ka Shing Foundation, the tour aims to arouse people's interest in protecting biodiversity.

The highlight of the tour is an exhibition on biodiversity featuring an installation called "Listen to the Earth Cone"—a combination of art and hi-tech designed by well-known Chinese-American architect Maya Lin. The "Listening Cone," as it is called for short, is a bronze and wood megaphone more than 19 feet long, 10 feet wide and 8 feet tall. Visitors can look into the wide end of the cone to see a screen showing videos describing endangered and threatened species and their declining habitats.

Each 20-minute video loop comprises a series of short films that highlight specific species, habitats or issues. Over 50 films were created for the installation. At the end of every 20-minute video program, a film entitled Unchopping a Tree is presented. The film focuses on the need to reduce emissions that contribute to global warming. The length of the video program was set at 20 minutes since one species, on average, disappears from the planet every 20 minutes.

So far, more than 550,000 people in China have visited the exhibition.

The Listening Cone is one of the most important art installations in What is Missing?, the latest work of Lin.

What is Missing?, which Lin calls her "last memorial," consists of site-specific media installations, traveling art exhibits, a printed and digital book, and other forms, all linked through the project's website (whatismissing.net). By existing in multiple forms and at several sites simultaneously, the project challenges the notion that memorials must be singular objects. Through a broad collaborative network among scientific institutions, environmental groups, writers, art institutions, filmmakers, photographers and artists, What is Missing? emphasizes what each individual can do to protect species and the habitats they depend on for survival.

Biodiversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms existing on the Earth. So far, about 1.75 million species have been identified, mostly small creatures such as insects. According to scientific estimates, there are actually about 13 million species, although estimates range from 3 million to 100 million.

Scientists say there are about 34,000 kinds of plants and more than 5,200 kinds of animals on the planet facing extinction. The rate of loss due to human activity is as much as 1,000 times higher than natural attrition.

The United Nations General Assembly named 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity in order to raise awareness of the impending crisis and spur the world to act.

The threats to biodiversity include habitat loss, unsustainable use of ecosystems and over-exploitation of biodiversity, as well as climate change and pollution.

The "Listen to the Earth" Biodiversity Tour that was launched in 2010 is quite meaningful and has historical significance. Biodiversity is the basis for human beings to survive and develop. It not only provides necessities for people, such as food, but also plays an important role in protecting our environment. Protecting biodiversity is beneficial for sustaining species, balancing nature and protecting the planet, said He Jiazhen, Deputy Director of the Center for Environmental Education and Communications of CMEP, in his speech at the opening ceremony of the tour in Beijing.

"China is one of the 12 countries that are the most abundant in biodiversity. The number of species in China is the highest in the Northern Hemisphere, which makes it the biological gene storeroom in this area. Therefore, protecting biodiversity in China will promote the sustainable development of human beings to a great extent. It's also an unshirkable responsibility for China as a responsible great power," he said.

Having been aware of the threat to biodiversity, many volunteers joined the tour, calling on the public, especially young students, to take actions to protect biological species and their habitats. Deng Yu, a senior student in the Department of Biology at Shantou University, is one of those traveling with the tour. As a biology major, she paid a lot of attention to biodiversity in the past, but she never realized that the problem is so severe and the world are now facing the sixth extinction of species.

"You can feel like you are the dolphins when watching the video about the creatures, in which those poor animals make a heart-wrenching screech when they are being slaughtered," she said. "After communicating with different NGOs and cooperating with other volunteers in all the cities, my inner feelings are constantly being renewed."

Ye Bite, a sixth-grade student at Beijing Yuying School, is one of the many pupils who have visited the exhibition. "Now I know how important biodiversity is, and if we don't protect it, we human beings may as well end up becoming extinct. But if we set about taking action today, nature will be more beautiful and more harmonious," he said.

The exhibition will continue at the China Science and Technology Museum till January 22, 2011. After that, it will move to the Geological Museum of China from January 23 to February 22. After the Beijing stop, the tour will visit several northeastern, central and western Chinese cities to start its second phase.

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