Celebrate Lovejoy & Wilson By Supporting Their Vision: Protect Half

Dec 28, 2021

by Amy Lewis

Vice President of Policy & Communications, WILD

On Christmas weekend, in the short span of two days, the world lost two renowned evolutionary biologists – Thomas Lovejoy, who helped coin the term “biological diversity,” and E.O. Wilson, one of biodiversity’s greatest champions. Among their many contributions to conservation science was their early leadership and advocacy for the scientific consensus that humanity must protect Half of Earth’s lands and seas to halt mass extinction and address the climate crisis.

In a lifetime of scientific achievements, it is perhaps difficult for a writer to choose among so many outstanding contributions. Which is why, in different times, under different ecological circumstances, it might be understandable that the priority Wilson and Lovejoy gave to advancing the protection of Half of Earth’s lands and seas (Wilson launching the Half Earth Project in 2016 and Lovejoy writing several scientific papers in support of Half) would go unmentioned. But in the age of unprecedented wildland loss, temperature rise, and ecological harbingers that annually become more and more indicative of a distressed and unbalanced planet, one wonders how we can truly celebrate the lives of these two scientists without fully recognizing the vision to which they dedicated the last few years of their lives.

“The time has come,” Lovejoy wrote in a 2016 paper published in Current Biology, “to flip our view from one in which nature’s place is in isolated protected areas set in human dominated landscapes, to one in which human aspiration is embedded in nature.” Lovejoy’s urging is a direct response to the facts that he observed: 70% of all remaining forests are within 1 kilometer of the forest’s edge, the accelerating destruction of the Amazon, and the historically low levels of wild nature – and still decreasing – around the world.

Likewise, E.O. Wilson believed protecting half of nature is an ethical imperative, going so far as to write Half Earth, a book laying out the case  for the protection of Half of Earth’s lands and seas published in 2016, launched a foundation to advance this idea and to which he dedicated much of his time in his final years. After decades of studying biodiversity, Wilson concluded that to avert catastrophic levels of extinction we needed to substantially intensify our efforts to protect it. We would do well to give the ambitious, planetary protection of nature more attention as we remember him and celebrate his accomplishments.

How is it that we honor Lovejoy and Wilson, scientific legends, without simultaneously honoring the science-backed conclusions they urged in the final years of their careers? It is, after all, difficult to celebrate a mind while simultaneously ignoring the culmination of that mind’s existence. The answer to this question is found in countless social science research papers on the role of science in policy making (conclusion: disappointingly small) and influencing cultural values (minimal). The facts are that even renowned scientists such as Lovejoy and Wilson need broad-based, social support – social movements – to see their recommendations manifest in public action and policy. 

The wisdom of even celebrated scientists is not enough to avert a tragedy of immense proportions. Without focused coordination from society, we may lose to a noisy political sphere this vital body of wisdom they helped accrue over their lifetimes.

Since 2009 and the launch of the Nature Needs Half movement at the 9th World Wilderness Congress in Merída, Mexico, the WILD Foundation has worked to expand support for the scientific necessity of protecting Half of Earth’s lands and seas. We are grateful for the contributions and leadership Thomas Lovejoy and E.O. Wilson gave to this effort. Their vital brilliance and energy will be sorely missed…as will their compassion and caring for all life on earth

The WILD Foundation is calling for all of us to honor the lives and spirits of Thomas Lovejoy and E.O. Wilson by paying heed to and championing their vision to protect Half of Earth’s lands and seas and save life on Earth as we know it.

Learn more about how you can become an ambassador for protecting Half of Earth.

Learn more about the first official recognition of the scientific necessity to protect Half of Earth, WCC-2020 Resolution 125 (Motion 101). Thomas Lovejoy and E.O. Wilson helped make this policy win possible by bringing greater attention to the Half discussion.

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