By DAVID BROWN
Naturalist Applauds New Guinea Efforts
Paradise and Oil Mixes Nicely
Diamond Tackled the Tough Topics
SEX!!! (Get Your Attention?)
When you write a book called Why Is Sex Fun? you can expect some attention. Jared Diamond certainly got that.
His most recent book (full title: Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality) appeared in 1997 and already has been published in 26 languages. Those include Turkish, Finnish and Rumanian, he said.
Despite its catchy title, the work is a serious scientific examination of the development of human sexuality. Or as Diamond put it, the book explores the sexual realities of human beings "that count as bizarre to dogs, cows and other mammals."
But this isn't Diamond's most popular title -- a fact that makes him happy. He's better known for his book Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, also published in 1997.
The book has achieved near-best-seller status.
Guns, Germs and Steel presents his answer to a puzzling question: Why did European societies advance further and more rapidly than neighboring societies and, eventually, come to dominate the world scene?
"Why did Europe colonize Africa, instead of Africa conquering and colonizing Europe?" he asked.
Diamond said the usual response is to cite race as a determining factor, usually with a reference to superior genetics or intelligence.
"Because people don't understand how these societies developed differently, they fall back on the obvious racial differences," he noted.
His own response covers 13,000 years of human history and almost every aspect of life, from the domestication of animals to the spread of disease.
After analyzing the patterns of societal development, Diamond reached a different conclusion:
"History turned out differently for various peoples due to differences in their environments. It had nothing to do with imagined differences in their IQ."
-- DAVID BROWN
Dr. Jared Diamond, a world-famous physiologist and naturalist, received the United States' National Medal of Science in March. In Discover magazine last year, Diamond wrote this about a trip to the rain forest of New Guinea:
"Suddenly, this embodiment of beauty was shattered by a column of burning gas flaring up from an oil field. The heat withered nearby trees, a perfect metaphor for the human desecration of nature."
Ouch. For anyone in the oil industry, those words could cause stomach cramps. So why is Diamond being honored this year with the Public Outreach Award from AAPG's Division of Environmental Geology?
He hardly needs another tribute. Diamond won the Pulitzer Prize and Britain's Science Book prize in 1998 for his book Guns, Germs and Steel. He also received Japan's International Cosmos Prize that year.
A leader of 17 expeditions to New Guinea and nearby islands, he's been awarded several research prizes and conservation medals. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a director of the World Wildlife Fund, USA (WWF).
Diamond earned an undergraduate degree in biochemical sciences from Harvard College and a doctorate in physiology from the University of Cambridge. He now serves as professor of physiology at the University of California-Los Angeles Medical School.
As Mrs. Fields would say, he's a smart cookie. And that's one reason his article "Paradise and Oil," published in the March 1999 issue of Discover, drew so much attention in the petroleum industry.
Diamond in the Rough
At the request of the WWF, Diamond traveled to the Kikori River area of Papua New Guinea. He described the locale as a remote paradise "threatened" by the discovery of oil a decade ago.
Greeted by the blaze of a gas flare, Diamond wrote, he expected "a lot of arguing and little to show for it. At least I could count on some good bird-watching."
But to his surprise, Diamond discovered that the land remained unspoiled. Primary forest bordered the production area and birds flocked near man-made structures.
He credited the preservation to efforts of the production joint venture partners, led by a Chevron Corp. subsidiary, Chevron Niugini Pty. Ltd.
"The fauna throughout the oil-lease zone remains pristine," he wrote, because the partnership closely controls employee activities.
Weapons are prohibited to prevent hunting, Diamond noted.
No one can remove plants or animals, visitors are limited in number and even gardening is forbidden. All rules aim at avoiding disruption of the environment.
"What I have witnessed along the Kikori has changed my mind about the inevitability of environmental disaster when oil is pumped out of the ground," he said.
Looking back on that visit to the production area, Diamond remains convinced that environmentalists and oil producers "are on the same side." He holds up the venture's tight and effective environmental management as a model for preserving the forest habitat:
"If nothing changes, a unique irony will unfold here. An oil company intent on pumping as much as it possibly can from the earth below a primitive rain forest may create New Guinea's premier conservation area."
The Kutubu Joint Venture project takes its name from Lake Kutubu, a scenic lake about 150 miles northwest of the Gulf of Papua. Oil was discovered in the area in 1986 and commercial production began in 1992.
To move crude to market, a pipeline snakes down from the highlands -- some wells are as high as 4,400 feet, Diamond said -- to a tanker-loading facility at the gulf.
Remote, lightly populated and biologically diverse, the rain forest of the production zone harbors numerous rare birds and animals. They include kangaroos that live in trees, giant lizards and butterflies with 10-inch wingspans.
According to Diamond, birds native to the area include cassowaries, harpy eagles, "ten species of birds of paradise, the greater melampitta (the only bird known to roost underground) and New Guinea's rarest kingfishers, lorikeets, nightjars, owls and robins."
Because of the sensitive ecology, Chevron Niugini created a comprehensive environmental plan to minimize impact on the rain forest habitat -- and then took the unusual step of asking the WWF to assist in drawing up an overall development plan.
Diamond went to New Guinea to see the results.
A realist as well as a naturalist, Diamond doesn't expect altruism to govern corporate behavior. The joint venture partners knew that New Guinea's inhabitants are fiercely protective of the country's resources and also highly litigious.
"If you chop down a tree," he said, "there will be someone there within a short period of time to present you with a bill for damages."
Diamond also understands that the oil industry desperately wants to improve its image in environmental matters. A Chevron executive he encountered described the connection between profit and preservation with these words: "Bhopal, Exxon Valdez and (Shell's) North Sea oil rig."
To those environmental controversies, Diamond added a mention of mining company pollution on the New Guinea island of Bougainville, which provoked an armed uprising.
Chevron faced an outpouring of protest when it announced the Kutubu Joint Venture's development plans. However, since that time only a few reported protests have occurred, and those have involved compensation issues, not environmental matters.
Development for oil production has brought employment and a source of revenue to the Kikori area. It also aids transportation in an inaccessible region, though not without some downside.
"It potentially provides access. Access can be a two-edged sword. To local people, access means an opportunity to get their export goods to market," he said, "Access also allows outside people to come in as squatters."
The Same Side
Diamond's view of oil production in an environmentally sensitive area is so unusual that he offered a postscript to his "Paradise and Oil" article:
To those who might think he was "paid by oil companies," he said instead "I was just astonished by what I saw."
Overall reaction to the piece was positive, according to Diamond.
"There was a great deal of interest from Chevron, of course," he said. "And there was a lot of interest and favorable reaction from the public."
In the end, Diamond left New Guinea believing that the interests of the oil industry and protection of the environment are not, and should not be, in conflict.
"All too often, big business in general and the extraction industries in particular have been viewed and have viewed themselves as being on the opposite side from environmentalists," he said.
"My main message is that we are on the same side."