After graduating from Oxford University in 1958, Dr. Myers spent 12 years researching wildlife in Africa before earning his doctorate in the United States in 1973. He has taught at a number of renowned universities on both sides of the Atlantic, including Oxford and Harvard. He has served as an adviser to many governments, international agencies and academic bodies. One of the chief characteristics of his research is his penchant for raising new questions as well as supplying new answers to established questions. To date, he has pioneered 15 research issues.
In the early 1970s the rate of species extinction was officially considered to be around one species per year. Dr. Myers calculated that it was likely to be as high as one species per day. If the extinction rate were to continue at that pace alone, it would precipitate the wholesale demise of species. Through more detailed research in the late 1980s and as tropical forests disappeared faster than ever—these forests feature the bulk of all species—he increased his extinction estimate to roughly 50 species per day. He also noted that the "natural" extinction rate before humans arrived was roughly one species every 3-5 years. Although his findings were severely criticized at first, most scientists have eventually come to accept them. In the late 1990s he has demonstrated that the current biotic crisis will not only eliminate large numbers of species, but it will destroy several major "powerhouses" of evolution, notably tropical forests and wetlands, these being the principal sources of new species in the wake of mass extinctions in the prehistoric past. The crisis will also deplete certain other basic processes of evolution. All in all, it will leave an impoverished planet for millions of years into the future—unless we take vigorous action forthwith.
Toward the end of the 1970s, Dr. Myers predicted that the rapidly accelerating decline of tropical forests, at approximately 75,000 square kilometers per year, could well double within another decade. Once again there were many critics of this conclusion, but he was ultimately proven correct through latest satellite imagery. In the early 1980s Myers was the first to warn that deforestation in Central America was mainly due to conversion of forests into cattle pastures to supply cheap beef for North America's fast food industry—a destructive process that he labeled the "hamburger connection", showing the international linkages of environmental decline. In similar style he drew attention to tropical forests' influence on climate both locally and globally.
Also in the early 1980s Dr. Myers documented the economic value of species and their genetic resources as start-point materials for pharmaceuticals including anti-cancer drugs, new foods, natural pesticides, and raw materials for industry ranging from oils and gums to plastics and latexes.
In the late 1980s Dr. Myers concluded that a sound way to conserve threatened species was to concentrate on "biodiversity hotspots", being areas where exceptional concentrations of endemic species are undergoing exceptional loss of habitat. In the late 1990s he and colleagues calculated that at least one third of all species are confined to 25 hotspots comprising just 1.4% of earth's land surface. He proposed that if these hotspots were preserved, the mass extinction ahead could be greatly reduced. His original analysis has been adopted by conservation organizations generating $550 million to date, the largest sum ever assigned to a single conservation strategy.
Dr. Myers' expertise in both the natural sciences and the social sciences has enabled him to contribute responses to a broad range of environmental issues, including population pressures, developing country poverty, over-consumption, unsustainable agriculture, climate change and environmental security. In a 2001 book, for example, he has presented a superb quantitative analysis of "perverse" subsidies, being subsidies that damage both our economies and our environments. These subsidies amount to as much as $2 trillion worldwide each year in sectors such as agriculture, fossil fuels, road transportation, water, forestry, and fisheries. The subsidies are large enough to cause major distortion of our economies and to inflict grandscale injury on our environments. As a response to his policy proposals, several governments are reducing their perverse subsidies.
In addition, Dr. Myers has been a senior advisor to organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the White House, scientific academies in a dozen countries, and numerous Japanese corporations. This testifies to the high regard accorded to his innovative research. He has raised the awareness of influential politicians (including six prime ministers and presidents), leading policy makers, and business chiefs worldwide, notably with respect to the many linkages between environmental conservation and economic development. Dr. Myers has publicized his work in more than 250 scholarly papers, plus 300 popular articles and 17 books (sales of these books, over one million copies). His efforts to raise an extended series of pioneering questions, together with proposals for integrating environmental imperatives into nation-wide policies, will help us to advance toward a sustainable future for both our earth and our world.