E.O. Wilson, center, receives award from Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams and Governing Council Member Bill Cronon.
In the opening pages of his new book Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, world-renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson declares, “I am convinced that only by setting aside half the planet in reserve, or more, can we save the living part of the environment and achieve the stabilization required for our own survival.”
He closes the book by reiterating the importance of conservation and stewardship. “Like or not, and prepared or not, we are the mind and stewards of the living world. Our own ultimate future depends upon that understanding.”
Wilson includes in Half-Earth a full-throated defense of wilderness as a key ingredient for protecting the biodiversity to needed to ensure that survival.
In recognition of his revolutionary work as a naturalist, author and champion of conservation across the globe, The Wilderness Society presented Dr. Wilson with the Robert Marshall Award at the Governing Council meeting in Boston in October. The award is presented each year to a private citizen who has never held federal office but has devoted long-term service to and had a notable influence on conservation and the fostering of an American land ethic.
Wilson’s many publications have inspired generations of scientists and garnered two Pulitzer Prizes for nonfiction along the way, for On Human Nature (1979) and The Ants (1991). His study of insects eventually led to a ground-breaking synthesis of knowledge and new field of study within biology: sociobiology.
Beginning with study of some of the world’s smallest creatures, Wilson has devoted more than six decades to unraveling some of the biggest mysteries of life on our planet.
At the recent Boston meeting, Wilson spoke with the Governing Council of The Wilderness Society in a session moderated by Steve Curwood, host of the NPR program Living on Earth. Wilson discussed habitat loss and the urgency of safeguarding our last remaining wild places, especially on public lands.
We Need Involvement by All Levels of Government
“We need to have at all levels of government all the land that we can put aside for the natural environment,” he said. [from video excerpt 2] The preservation of half the earth could be realized “with a minimum of disturbance of human occupation and settlement.” [excerpt from video 3]
Echoing an ongoing effort by The Wilderness Society to identify and protect migration corridors for animals and plants that are increasingly isolated and squeezed by fragmentation, habitat loss and climate change, Wilson said establishing corridors is probably the most efficient way of holding on to biodiversity. “By connecting areas even by a narrow corridor, you’re increasing the immigration rate of both.”
He noted that the biodiversity of the United States is richest east of the Mississippi, a region with modest amounts of protected land.
“The Public Is Ready for This”
On the importance of protecting public lands and biodiversity, Wilson said, “I think the public is ready for this…. I think we need a lot more science and we should promote that and grow that whole area of biology…. We need to lead the biodiversity and living environment by putting it up front in terms of the work in order to identify the places that we can save.”
Wilson wrapped up his comments on a positive note with a smile, telling The Wilderness Society, “Just keep doing what you’ve been doing.”
The Wilderness Society hopes Wilson continues his vital work as well – doing what he’s been doing for more than a half century.