Meg Lowman climbs trees for a living. A botanist by training, she wanted to study the rainforest canopy. The only way to get answers, she says, was to get up there herself. So back in the 1970s, using her own makeshift equipment, she figured out how.

“It’s amazing to me to think that only in the last 40 years have we explored the tops of trees,” says Lowman, the director of North Carolina’s Nature Research Center. Walking down a rainforest trail, it may seem like there’s a lot going on, but that’s really only a small slice of the whole picture, she says. “It’s almost like going to the doctor and if he checked your big toe and said ‘Oh, you’re perfectly healthy.’ It’s just such a small part of the whole body of the forest.”

Unfortunately a lot of what she’s found up there isn’t nearly as fun as the process she uses to discover it. “I’m going to level with you that I get pretty depressed about what’s going on with deforestation,” Lowman says — and it’s not just the critters that are suffering. “We’re seeing enormous quality of life disappearing for many cultures because of our greed and our lack of understanding.”

I spoke with “Canopy Meg” about her tree-climbing exploits, the power of Google Earth, and the importance of spirituality in rainforest conservation.

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This interview is part of the Generation Anthropocene project, in which Stanford students partake in an inter-generational dialogue with scholars about living in an age when humans have become a major force shaping our world.

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