Lovejoy and Wilson have spoken; now it's time to act / December 30, 2021
Tom Lovejoy introduced the term biodiversity in 1980 and E. O. Wilson patiently yet persistently worked thereafter to convince us that we cannot live without it. HNP’s grassroots initiative is the call-to-action that will regenerate biodiversity. The time is NOW to plant native and GET ON THE HNP MAP!
This past week the world lost two of conservation’s founding fathers: Thomas Lovejoy and Edward O. Wilson. Volumes will be written about these great men, but suffice it to say that Tom Lovejoy introduced the term biodiversity in 1980 and E. O. Wilson patiently yet persistently worked thereafter to convince us that we cannot live without it. We will mourn the loss of Lovejoy and Wilson, but let’s also celebrate the conservation imperatives they have left us. Because of their work, we are not starting from scratch. We now have a clear set of goals for how we must interact with nature from here on. All that is left is to meet those goals.
In his 2016 book ‘Half Earth,’ Wilson explained why we need to protect the natural world on at least half of Planet Earth if we are to preserve life as we know it on any part of the planet. This call is gaining traction. Urged by UN commissions and dozens of scientists, governments the world over (including that of the U.S.) have pledged to undertake the first step of this plan: to preserve 30 % of the planet by 2030, the so-called 30X30 plan. But keep in mind, this is only step one. Step two is to meet Wilson’s goal of protecting 50% of the earth by 2050! These pledges are ambitious, to be sure, and fortunately they are not mere academic proposals. They are last-chance commitments that we must successfully enact, or the life support systems provided by the natural world will fail.
But how can we do this? How can we save ecosystem function on 1/2 or even 1/3 of the earth when we humans – with our agriculture, our mining, our dwellings, our infrastructure, the climate we have altered, and our detritus - have already degraded far more than half of the planet? Surely we want to protect as many of the remaining wild places as possible, but there may not be enough wildlands left to reach the 30X30 goal, and there certainly aren’t enough to reach the 50X50 goal. What’s more, they are not distributed evenly across the planet. Saving the Amazon rainforest (Lovejoy’s lifelong passion) must be done, but that will not help temperate zone ecosystems thrive. And thrive they must, because that is where most of humanity lives. In short, we need to save or restore healthy, self-sustaining ecosystems that churn out life support everywhere.
In my view, the only way to achieve E. O. Wilson’s dream is to coexist with nature, in the same place, at the same time. We must bury forever the notion that humans are here and nature is someplace else, for there are no longer enough “someplace else’s” to meet the need. We have persisted for the last half-century in the misguided belief that humans can only thrive when segregated from the natural world, and, as a result, the U.S. has formally protected only 12% of its land.
We can achieve Wilson’s lofty goals without excluding the human enterprise, but the key to doing this is to practice conservation not only in protected wildlands, but also outside of parks and preserves: where we live, work, farm, and play. And by “we,” I don’t mean just a few ecologists and conservation biologists. I mean every one of us. Conservation is the responsibility of everyone on earth because every one of us depends entirely on healthy ecosystems.
We are off to a good start. Property owners throughout the country, and particularly the nearly 12,000 Americans who have pledged to help build Homegrown National Park, are shrinking lawns, planting trees, expanding native plant populations, protecting woodlots, and removing invasives all over the U.S. I am grateful to everyone who has heard the urgency in Wilson’s voice. But we need more people to hear it, and we need them to hear it soon. Let’s convince 10 times more people to build their own part of Homegrown National Park in 2022 and 10 times more than that in 2023. It’s fun, it’s rewarding, it’s vital, and above all else, it works!
Though it might be tempting for some to see the loss of Lovejoy’s and Wilson’s leadership as a signal to give up on conservation, this is not an option, particularly now with such a clear path to success in sight. Instead, let’s view their passing as a transfer of responsibility for the future of conservation, from them and many other leaders like them, to us. Humanity has entered a race, perhaps the most important race humans have ever been challenged to: a race against time; a race to curb our own destructive habits, a race to change our culture from one that exiles Mother Nature to the most uninhabitable places on earth to one that welcomes Her into all human-dominated spaces. As E. O. Wilson famously said, “Conservation is a discipline with a deadline.” The deadline is approaching, so please help spread his important message!
- Doug Tallamy