U.S. National Science Foundation Funding Promotes Cutting-Edge Research in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique

Mozambique, Africa – Researchers from the University of Idaho and Princeton University have been awarded a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation in the USA to continue their ground-breaking research in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. The Principal Investigators, Dr. Ryan Long of the University of Idaho (USA), and Drs. Rob Pringle and Corina Tarnita of Princeton University (USA), together with their students, have been studying the large herbivore communities of Gorongosa since 2013. This new $1.25 million collaborative grant will enable them to continue and expand their work over the next four years.

The study will focus on three closely related antelopes that vary five-fold in body size: bushbuck, nyala and kudu (all in the genus Tragelaphus). In natural ecosystems like Gorongosa, resources are not uniformly available across space and time. Consequently, animals must adjust their behavior in response to changing environmental conditions to maximize survival and reproductive success. In theory, the ability to make such adjustments is constrained by body size, because fundamental traits such as energy requirements are strongly influenced by size. Yet, how body size limits animals’ ability to respond to environmental variation remains poorly understood. This research will improve understanding of (a) how body size limits the range of behaviors available to animals for coping with environmental change or variation, and (b) how the distribution of resources such as food, concealment cover from predators, and favorable microclimates interacts with behavior to determine the success of individuals and populations that differ in body size.


From left to right, Principal Investigators Dr. Ryan Long, Dr. Corina Tarnita and Dr. Rob Pringle fitting a satellite collar to an immobilized kudu antelope in Gorongosa National Park

From left to right, Principal Investigators Dr. Ryan Long, Dr. Corina Tarnita and Dr. Rob Pringle fitting a satellite collar to an immobilized kudu antelope in Gorongosa National Park


As these three antelope species are relatively common in Gorongosa, understanding their ecology is relevant to understanding the broader system. This fits with the search for the general principles or rules that link ecology and behavior, and how understanding such rules gives us a deeper understanding that may be applicable in all ecosystems, not just in Gorongosa. For example the study could also help to inform the management and conservation of North American species with high recreational and economic value (e.g., deer, elk, and moose) that also span a range of body sizes.

The project will facilitate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) training and education for students from both the U.S. and Mozambique. For example, two U.S. PhD students will work on the project, and a Mozambican research assistant will be employed and trained. In addition, an immersive field course based on key conceptual themes of the project will be developed during years three and four, and will be offered to both U.S. and Mozambican students.

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The Gorongosa Restoration Project integrates conservation and human development with the understanding that a healthy ecosystem will benefit human beings, who in turn will be motivated to support Gorongosa Park objectives.

Scientific research is an integral part of the long-term Gorongosa restoration effort, as a deep understanding of Gorongosa’s ecosystem will guide effective conservation decisions. The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory, opened in March 2014, positions Gorongosa to become a premier research hub in southern Africa. The laboratory has already attracted regional, national, and international attention. Scientists from Mozambican and international institutions, such as Universities of Eduardo Mondlane and Lúrio in Mozambique, Coimbra University in Portugal, and Universities of Harvard and Princeton in the USA, have been conducting research in the Park.

One of the laboratory’s most critical roles is to provide training to the next generation of Mozambican scientists in the Park, and also to send them to universities for advanced degrees. Several students, receiving full or partial financial assistance from the laboratory, have already begun studying for future careers as veterinarians, ecologists and lab technicians at universities.

For more general information, visit http://www.gorongosa.org

Guest Blog by Erle Ellis: Nature for the People—Toward a Democratic Vision for the Biosphere

Originally published in The Breakthrough Journal, Summer 2017

Erle C. Ellis is professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a Senior Fellow at the Breakthrough Institute.



Imagine a planet without wild places. A planet so covered with aquaculture, plantations, rangelands, farms, villages, and cities that wild creatures and wild places, if they still exist at all, linger only at the margins of working landscapes, cityscapes, and seascapes.

Is this the planet you want to live on? No matter who you are, I bet it’s not. Your ideal planet would sustain both people and nature, leaving plenty of room for wild creatures to live and thrive in habitats free of human interference.

Why think about this? The answer is simple. If you aspire to live on a planet where wild creatures roam unhindered across wild landscapes, this is not the planet you are making. While times have likely never been better for most people, the opposite is true for the rest of life on Earth.(1)

Less than one-quarter of Earth’s land remains without human populations or land use.(2) Wild species, especially wild animals, are going extinct faster than they can be counted. The cause is mostly habitat conversion and loss, combined with unregulated hunting and resource use, pollution, competition with species transported from other parts of the world, and increasingly, global changes in climate.(3)

The case has been made many, many times that transforming the planet in this way is ecologically, economically, and ethically unsustainable.(4) These claims and their supporting evidence are important. Yet facts and rational arguments are not nearly enough to change the way things are going.

To sustain Earth’s wild places and wild species into the deep future, an unprecedented level of social change will be required. The good news is that the roots of this great social transition are already evolving. By engaging with these evolutionary processes of sociocultural change, human societies might ultimately produce and sustain a far better world than the one we are creating now.

1.

This planet is the way it is because our societies made it that way. There is no control room on Earth. No one is in charge of the planet. And no one is intentionally destroying nature. People transform ecology to make a living. We humans, as individuals and societies, are shaping this planet while we are busy making other plans. Planetary change is social change, and contemporary societies are transforming the world at rates and scales unprecedented for any other species in Earth’s history.(5) Such is the nature of the Anthropocene.

Human transformation of Earth is nothing new. As Earth’s “ultimate ecosystem engineers,” humans have always transformed environments to sustain themselves, using ever more complex tools, from fire and social strategies for hunting and foraging to domesticating species, grazing livestock, tilling soils, and building global supply chains to service urban supermarkets.(6)

Since our species began to spread across the continents more than 60,000 years ago, human societies have grown in scale from a few dozen individuals to hundreds of millions. Through processes of cooperative ecosystem engineering, the potential productivity of a single square kilometer of land has gone from sustaining fewer than ten individuals supported by foraging and hunting to sustaining thousands through intensive agricultural practices. Energy use per individual has also scaled up by a factor of more than 20, from the burning of biomass to cook food to the use of fossil fuels and nonbiological energy sources (like solar, wind, and nuclear) to do our work. This energy now powers the flow of materials, energy, biota, and information across the globe, and human societies, as a result, have emerged as a force of nature.

These unmatched capacities to shape Earth’s functioning are based on socially learned and socially enacted behaviors. Unlike beavers, ants, and other species whose abilities to alter environments by building dams and nests are biological, humans must learn from others how to hunt, farm, trade stocks, or even live together. Humans are ultrasocial — the most social species that has ever existed on Earth, unable to survive or to reproduce without learning how to live from and with others.(7) It takes a social group, a village, a nation-state, or a global trading system for humans to make a living, or to transform an environment. And it takes social learning — culture — to make it all possible. Through millennia of social change and cultural evolution, human societies have accumulated cultural capacities that have enabled us to become very good at making Earth’s ecology work for us.

Environmental change is social change, and social change is cultural change. 

Humans reshape environments through social processes that vary hugely both within and among societies and change as societies change.(8) In some societies, most individuals engage directly in altering environments to sustain themselves, as with hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers. In others, some farm, make things, or serve others, while some trade, tax, or govern. In this way, the myriad social processes that sustain humans and transform environments have come to function entirely through trust, cooperation, competition, and exchange among complete strangers through social networks that extend across an entire planet.

Current levels of inequality within and among societies may never have been greater than they are today. The demands of some individuals, social groups, and societies shape Earth’s ecology far more than those of others. In this way, human transformation of environments might be chalked up to bad people doing bad things. Yet, the reality is far more complex.

Human societies, even some small bands of hunter-gatherers, have long been socially differentiated, with unequal sharing of power, resources, and opportunities among individuals and social groups structured through historically and culturally determined societal processes.(9) Societies characterized by relatively equitable social relations have proven just as capable of mismanaging their ecosystems as the more unequal ones — witness the mass megafaunal extinctions caused by hunter-gatherers at the end of the Pleistocene.(10) Moreover, like social inequality and harmful social relations, the patterns and processes of unsustainable environmental management and resource extraction reflect the social relationships, exchanges, and institutions of the societies that produce and sustain them.

As with the societies we live in, the planet we have inherited from our ancestors, and the one we are making now, is a social construct, shaped physically and culturally by the perceptions, values, aspirations, tools, and institutions of societies past and present.(11) These social structures and processes have changed across generations as the cultural practices and institutions that produced them have evolved.(12) In the Anthropocene, Earth’s ecology changes with us. Environmental change is social change, and social change is cultural change.

2.

Though only about half of Earth’s land is currently used for agriculture, forestry, settlements, and other human infrastructure, most of the remainder represents lower-productivity lands left unused for economic reasons.(13) Look out any airplane window and the evidence is clear. The steep slopes of hills and mountains remain the lesser-used lands almost everywhere — islands of remnant and recovering vegetation lost in a sea of agriculture and settlements.

Earth as a whole is no different. The greatest areas still unused by us are its coldest, driest, and least productive regions — the Sahara, northern Siberia, and other major deserts and frigid polar regions — with the exception of remote areas of dense tropical forest in Amazonia and the Congo.

By the numbers, existing global conservation efforts appear robust, including designated protected areas covering about 15 percent of Earth’s land. Some are quite large — a million square kilometers in Greenland (0.8 percent of Earth’s land), half a million in the Sahara (0.4 percent), and between a third and a half a million in southern Africa (0.2–0.4 percent). Some marine protected areas are even larger. Total global protection has also been increasing rapidly in recent decades. There are now hundreds of thousands of terrestrial protected areas around the world.

We’ve taken the better half of Earth’s land and left the rest.

While these efforts to conserve habitats and wild species are vitally important, they reveal a troubling weakness. The parts of Earth we’ve protected so far have been the easy ones, the parts that mostly remained unused because they were too cold, dry, steep, or remote to develop cheaply. In contrast, Earth’s most favorable climes and most fertile and accessible lands are for the most part already in use.(14) We’ve taken the better half of Earth’s land and left the rest.

Outside deserts and polar regions, the land we’ve left behind or protected is a patchwork of remnant and recovering habitats dispersed across and embedded within the engineered mosaics of used lands and infrastructure that sustain our societies. The EU has more than 120,000 protected areas, but more than two-thirds are smaller than 100 hectares.(15) By fragmenting and shrinking habitats into ever smaller and less connected parcels, Earth’s wild species have been subdivided into smaller, more isolated, and more vulnerable populations exposed to the myriad pressures and disturbances that come with proximity to human societies.(16) This is especially true for the vertebrate species who, like us, require extensive habitats to survive.

It’s hard enough to sustain wild habitats and wild populations in the small disturbed fragments we’ve marooned within our working landscapes. Yet we are making it even harder. With near certainty, global temperatures will rise by at least 2 degrees this century. To live within the habitats they are adapted to, some species are going to have to migrate hundreds to thousands of miles toward the poles in the coming decades. They will need to cross farmlands, cities, and highways to avoid extinction.

For these and other reasons, even if land use were kept just as it is right now, extinctions would likely continue to increase into the future.(17) Yet natural habitats continue to fall to deforestation, unsustainable harvests, and conversion to agriculture, settlements, and other forms of land use. In this time of unprecedented human prosperity, ensuring that the rest of Earth’s species can make it through the Anthropocene will require figuring out how to free up and reconnect habitats across Earth’s most productive half.

3.

Thanks to increasingly productive agricultural systems, more food has been produced per person every decade since the 1960s without a major increase in the global area of land cultivated for crops since the 1970s.(18) With more than 7 billion people on Earth, rates of population growth are also on the decline and should top out at 10 billion or so this century.(19)

With careful management, projected human populations can be sustained using even less land than today, and more room can be set aside for other species in protected areas across the continents. Agricultural intensification and urbanization continue to enable societies to produce more with less, leaving behind huge areas of marginal lands in the process. The same trends that enabled forest recoveries in the developed world almost a century ago are moving well along in China and increasingly in many other developing countries. With the right kinds of policies and development — like job creation in cities that pulls rather than pushes the rural poor to better opportunities — large swaths of land can be released for other uses, conservation included.

Enhancing the productivity of land over time is no small feat, nor is urbanizing in an equitable fashion, nor sustaining wildlife in protected areas surrounded by human development. But the greatest challenge of them all, the grand challenge of the Anthropocene, is to bring these three crucial endeavors together fruitfully across the vast tapestry of shared spaces we’ve constructed. Most of the anthropogenic biosphere is now shared space — patchworks of remnant, recovering, and less-used habitats we’ve left embedded within our producing landscapes.(20) Within these mosaics, wild creatures still make their living within the human world, where sometimes they can even thrive.(21)

We’ve become very good at making Earth’s most productive lands work for us.

To expand the wild spaces needed to sustain the rest of life on Earth, it will be necessary to redesign and rebuild the anthropogenic landscapes we’ve constructed to sustain ourselves. We’ve become very good at making Earth’s most productive lands work for us. We’ve crisscrossed the continents with roads and other connective infrastructure that have made contemporary societies the most interdependent that have ever lived on Earth. It is time to put the same design and engineering prowess to work expanding and reconnecting wild habitats.

To design, engineer, and construct a planet that will sustain wild species through the Anthropocene demands a triple focus: production and protection must be advanced together, and the interface between the two must function toward both ends. At the same time that less productive lands are reclaimed for wildlife, these must be protected and reconnected through the dense webs of human infrastructure that still divide the lands we’ve left unused. Corridors of unbroken habitat, free of human pressures, must be built at scale to connect the largest protected areas across continents. Protection will only work if it forms a continental web of wildlife mobility that serves the large and the small, the slow and the fast, in the movements they must make to survive across the Anthropocene.

The good news is that creating multifunctional landscapes capable of producing high yields for humans while enabling species to live and move are increasingly common management strategies in Europe, Japan, and some other developed nations. But there will always be trade-offs.(22) In Iowa, for instance, one of Earth’s most productive agricultural regions, converting 10 percent of land area to linked prairie strips delivered disproportionately large conservation benefits and connectivity, but also reduced corn and soybean production.(23) While conservationists and even many farmers prefer the crop/prairie mosaic to wall-to-wall crops, missed yields must be made up by production elsewhere — likely in less productive areas requiring more land. Moreover, creating multifunctional landscapes of this sort can also create and sustain local conflicts — some violent — among farmers, pastoralists, conservationists, and wildlife, especially when the trade-offs are unequal, as they often are.(24)

For these reasons, sustaining production and protection in the same landscape is a demanding social project. It requires intensive and ongoing negotiations and investments shared among landowners, governments, the public, businesses, and other stakeholders. Yet such efforts are expanding around the world, including collaborations among diverse land management and conservation institutions to interconnect habitats across continents. But new strategies and even new institutions will not be enough. Protection and connection at the planetary scales needed to sustain wild creatures and wild spaces through the Anthropocene will not succeed without connecting deeply with the abiding human love and concern for wild nature.

4.

Contemporary industrial societies are not the first to value and conserve wild places and wildlife.(25) From the traditional tapu areas of Polynesia (the source of the word “taboo”) to the sacred groves of India, the Maasai’s eschewal of game hunting in East Africa to the royal hunting grounds of Europe — through to the millions of acres of public lands designated by Teddy Roosevelt — countless forms of conservation have cropped up for millennia, emerging from the cultural priorities of the societies that created them. It is likely that most, if not all societies, from the days of hunter-gatherers to the present, have practiced some form of conservation, and that some of these efforts helped to sustain biodiversity for generations.(26)

Yet the social consequences and effectiveness of conservation practices reflect the cultural behaviors, institutions, perspectives, and aspirations of the societies that enact them. In most of the examples above, limits to habitat use or hunting served to reinforce and reproduce social inequality. The imposition of tapu areas by priests helped sustain their privileged role in Polynesian societies. Royal hunting grounds and bans on hunting specific species served as much to signify royal power as to conserve wild game. Colonial game preserves and early conservation areas imposed through the repression and removal of indigenous peoples reflect the worst forms of cultural dominance. Even Roosevelt’s more democratic conservation ethos developed from his hunting experiences in just such environments. Conservation in this sense can sometimes represent nothing more than a “green grab” imposed by elites on the less powerful.(27)

Yet this is clearly not the only cultural path to conservation. The Maasai’s cultural prohibitions on the consumption of game have long been reproduced through a form of identity politics; to be Maasai is to herd cattle and not to hunt for sustenance.(28) To live off one’s cattle is to be an honored member of society — not to is to lose one’s social standing. The peaceful coexistence of Maasai cattle with vast herds of wild herbivores is an amazing thing to behold; from an agricultural perspective, a lot of grass is being given away for free. Yet with few exceptions, this has been the cultural norm among the Maasai for hundreds of years, and their rangelands have helped to conserve the most diverse mammalian megafauna assemblages left on Earth.(29)

The key to a global social effort to sustain Earth’s ecological heritage is to stop believing that there is any single best way to value nature.

In the developed world, conservationists have sparred for more than a century over an appropriate cultural stance for preserving the world’s natural resources, lands, and wildlife, a conflict exemplified by the debate between John Muir, staunch defender of “Nature with a capital N,” and Gifford Pinchot, “wise-use” conservationist.(30) The ensuing split between ecocentric and anthropocentric philosophies has roiled environmental efforts for decades, resulting in conflicts over what nature to conserve and why.(31) Even Aldo Leopold’s calls for a “harmony between men and land” failed to resolve this dispute. Debates along these lines continue in arguments about the need for explicit valuation of land or ecosystem services to justify conserving them.(32)

But the key to a global social effort to sustain Earth’s ecological heritage is to stop believing that there is any single best way to value nature. Humans shape their environments in accordance with their cultural beliefs, values, and practices. Some like their nature “pristine,” some like it managed productively, and some just like it on TV. But each of us, in our own individual and socialized way, wants wildlife and biodiversity out there; biophilia is basic to human psychology, perhaps as ingrained as our need to be social.(33)

There are so, so many ways to value nature — whether it be a pasture full of cattle, a plot of land, a city park, a protected wilderness area, a hunting preserve, or a whole world that needs saving. Scientific evidence combined with legal and economic frameworks will of course continue playing an important role in conservation. Yet these won’t be nearly enough. When it comes to hard decisions about values and sharing, people’s goals, incentives, and actions are shaped by cultural norms at the individual, group, and societal levels. Even within the increasingly globalized societies most people now live in, different people in different social groups make value-based decisions very differently.(34) With such an amazing diversity of cultures of nature, how could any specific ethical or value-based approach bring people together around a common global project to conserve Earth’s ecological heritage?

5.

Given the deeply social nature of conservation and the vast diversity of our cultural preferences toward it, building a common global conservation project will not be easy. Yet three basic approaches to fostering the collective aspirations behind such a project would seem necessary. The first is to be all-inclusive — to celebrate all nature values across all value systems that exist around the world.(35) The second is to seek out and appeal to those values already held in common. And the third is to disseminate and promote new or existing values with the potential to broadly support the project. All will likely be needed if human aspirations are to reshape a better world both for people and the rest of nature.

Ironically, though, stories of environmental doom have come to dominate the discourse today. Narratives warning of a “sixth mass extinction” and many other environmental crises do have a substantial scientific basis and have helped to put serious concerns about biodiversity loss on the map. Yet such negative messaging has also been shown to be not only dismal and depressing but also disempowering, off-putting, and generally unsustainable.(36) Most importantly, visions of future catastrophe are unlikely to motivate the vast majority of people whose lives turn on their own daily struggles, no matter how popular such narratives might be among some educated elites in developed nations.

There is increasing evidence to suggest that people respond more actively to positive, aspirational messages that empower them to act toward better outcomes.

For more than a century, appealing directly to a shared love of nature has bolstered conservation efforts. Increasingly, calls for “Earth Optimism” and “Nature for All” have gained traction, directing attention toward the successes and positive aspirations of conservation movements around the world, rather than their problems and failures.(37) Indeed, there is increasing evidence to suggest that people respond more actively to positive, aspirational messages that empower them to act toward better outcomes.(38) Even in the midst of their daily struggles, all people aspire to a better life. These aspirations are many, but they are not infinite, and many are held in common. Aspirational natures, natures that represent what people want, might thus serve as the ultimate guide to expanding conservation into a truly universal human project.

In his 2016 book Half-Earth, Edward O. Wilson proposed what is likely the most proactive and grandly ambitious aspirational vision of conservation ever.(39) While roughly anchored in science, Wilson’s vision focuses more broadly on making the biosphere great again through an unapologetically enormous project that would protect and restore half of the planet to conserve biodiversity into the deep future. The precise way forward is not made clear in the book, but his vision is radically simple, crisp, and clear — a better Earth for the rest of nature will also be a better Earth for us.

The appeal of Half-Earth lies in its simplicity. Sharing Earth half-and-half sure seems like a fair shake for both parties. While the political, economic, and other social implications of such a project are staggering,(40) as a positive, easy-to-embrace vision of a way forward, it might be impossible to beat. Moreover, done right, such a plan would almost certainly facilitate the conservation of Earth’s ecological heritage into the deep future.

Half-Earth and the related Nature Needs Half project(41) are almost impossibly grand visions for Earth’s future. Yet their combined appeal to human love of nature and aspirations for a better future are likely the most universal of any call for conservation in human history. Crisis narratives and scientifically defined environmental limits might engage some people, but their focus on planetary problems with complex technocratic solutions is almost impossible to grasp at a personal level.

Empowering people to join a popular social project that everyone can understand and act on in their own ways might be just what it takes to change Earth for the better. Such efforts build on a basic trust in humans and the shared values they hold in nature around the world. In these times of unprecedented global connectivity and interdependence among human societies, the time has never been riper for a global social enterprise to reshape our planet for the better.

6.

The devil is, of course, in the details. It would take deep, deep pockets to purchase conservation rights to 35 percent of Earth’s land to top up the 15 percent already protected (a wild guess: about four billion hectares at an average cost of $100 to $1,000 per hectare). Even if funds were available, what would prevent such a scheme from becoming merely the greatest green grab ever?

The first step in reshaping half of Earth’s land into a global conservation reserve is to recognize that this would introduce the most challenging land reallocation process in history. Sharing the planet (unequally) with one another is hard enough. Sharing land equitably across ecoregions — including Earth’s most productive and densely populated regions — would demand global trade-offs in land use that are hard even to imagine. Whose half will be conserved or restored? Where will lost agricultural production be made up? Who will win and who will lose in the great global land trade-off? Who will compensate whom?

Another key question is whether land allocations should be guided by expediency — wherever land is cheap or available for political or other reasons — or by ecological priorities — where species or habitats are rarest and most in need of conservation. To date, expediency has been the rule. Yet this strategy cannot ensure that the full diversity of Earth’s habitats and species will be conserved or that habitat connectivity across continents will be possible.

A truly equitable, effective, and sustainable global conservation system will need to be more than a global land deal or a global property portfolio in the hands of a few powerful institutions. An equitable system is far more likely to emerge as a shared social project evolving from the bottom-up aspirations of the world’s people, their societies, and their dynamic environments over the very long term. It will take sustained social learning, cultural negotiation, and cooperation across societies to shape conservation and connectivity across Earth’s producing and protected lands.

This will mean multilevel, not top-down, modes of governance, defined by strong local and regional institutions, as well as novel forms of social collaboration among private and public stakeholders at all levels. Elinor Ostrom’s research into the sustainable shared management of forests and other common-pool resources illuminates many of the institutional practices that might facilitate such collective management of a shared reserve covering half the Earth.(42)

The good news is that the roots of this great social transition are already evolving.

Such coordination is already off to a promising start in many regions supported by international initiatives like the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Yellowstone to Yukon projectNatura 2000, the Landscape Connectivity call to action of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and many others. Emergent networks of nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, and private-sector groups are also taking on the challenge of global conservation and connectivity and finding common ground in shared values like “planetary health” and Earth stewardship.(43)

To continue moving forward, the selection, design, and management of protected areas and the connections between them must continue to evolve and diversify if they are to serve the needs of all people and all species.(44) In particular, the notion of a dichotomy between used lands and protected areas will need to transition into a continuum of strategies for integration, from interconnected regional national parks and indigenous reserves to urban green spaces, prairie strips, hedgerows, wildlife bridges, dam removal projects, and experiments with conservation management. Diverse solutions and creativity will be essential to navigating the compromises that will make a shared planet valuable to people and viable for wildlife.(45)

As humans increasingly become an interconnected and interdependent global species with stabilizing populations and broadly rising welfare, it is an increasingly imaginable, if daunting, prospect that our societies might yet pool our resources to construct, connect, and sustain a global ecological niche that includes the rest of life on Earth. With 15 percent of Earth’s land already protected and another 2 percent on the way, protecting 50 percent of Earth’s land is at least in the realm of possibility.

What this shared planet might ultimately look like remains largely the domain of visionaries and science fiction. Perhaps it might evolve into a simple binary world, half urbanity and intensive agriculture, the rest protected, untouched — nature somewhere else. Yet I for one do not believe that such a world is either possible or desirable; the planet is shared now, and always will be. The question is not just how much to share, but how to share it.

Imagine a planetary dashboard, like a ballot box, in the hands of every person on Earth. What would Earth look like if we all voted to construct a globally connected reserve covering half of Earth’s land? Unfortunately, the answer is not simple at all.

Would this create a global patchwork of organic farms, green cities, and interconnected habitat? Or separate seas of dense cities and farms, with protected wilderness areas far away? If habitats are to be restored and protected in Earth’s most productive ecoregions, how will this loss of production be made up? By clearing larger areas in less productive ecoregions or by increasing yields on existing farmlands? Will shared spaces, where people and wildlife coexist in close proximity, increase, or would they disappear? Will nature feel closer or farther away? These are just some of the hard questions.

Either way, the people, together, will decide. Different people in different regions will likely do things differently. But ultimately, the call for an aspirational social movement to conserve half of Earth for the rest of nature will need to serve as a call to develop better, and to develop differently, and not as a call to end development.

Over centuries, Maasai culture shaped productive, shared, and incredibly biodiverse landscapes. This is a gift to every one of us on Earth now and in the future. The megafauna and landscapes they helped to sustain might yet outlast the Great Pyramids or New York City. As Earth’s first ultrasocial ecosystem engineers, we as a species will continue to shape the world. What will be our legacy? It is hard to imagine a greater gift to the future than a planet as richly diverse or richer than the one that evolved in the millions of years before our common ancestors first walked the plains of Africa.

1. Raudsepp-Hearne, C., et al. 2010. “Untangling the Environmentalist’s Paradox: Why Is Human Well-Being Increasing as Ecosystem Services Degrade?” BioScience 60: 576–589; Pinker, S. 2011. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Penguin Publishing Group; Young, H. S., et al. 2016. “Patterns, Causes, and Consequences of Anthropocene Defaunation.” Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 47: 333–358; Johnson, C. N., et al. 2017. “Biodiversity losses and conservation responses in the Anthropocene.” Science 356: 270–275; Roser, M. 2017. “The short history of global living conditions and why it matters that we know it.” In Our World in Data. OurWorldInData.org.

2. Ellis, E. C. 2015. “Ecology in an Anthropogenic Biosphere.” Ecological Monographs 85: 287–331; Ellis, E. C., et al. 2010. “Anthropogenic transformation of the biomes, 1700 to 2000.” Global Ecology and Biogeography19: 589–606.

3. Dirzo, R., et al. 2014. “Defaunation in the Anthropocene.” Science 345: 401–406; Ceballos, G., et al. 2015. “Accelerated modern human-induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction.” Science Advances 1; Young, H. S., et al. 2016. “Patterns, Causes, and Consequences of Anthropocene Defaunation.” Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 47: 333–358.

4. Costanza, R., et al. 1997. “The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital.” Nature 387: 253–260; Chapin III, F. S., et al. 2011. “Earth stewardship: Science for action to sustain the human-Earth system.” Ecosphere 2: 1–20; Barnosky, A. D., et al. 2012. “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere.” Nature 486: 52–58; Steffen, W., et al. 2015. “Planetary boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet.” Science 347; Chan, K. M. A., et al. 2016. “Opinion: Why protect nature? Rethinking values and the environment.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113: 1462–1465; Almada, A. A., et al. 2017. “A case for Planetary Health/GeoHealth.” GeoHealth 1: 75–78.

5. Ellis, “Ecology in an Anthropogenic Biosphere”; Williams, M., et al. 2015. “The Anthropocene Biosphere.” The Anthropocene Review 2: 196–219; Waters, C. N., et al. 2016. “The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene.” Science 351: 137.

6. Kirch, P. V. 2005. “Archaeology and Global Change: The Holocene Record.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 30: 409; Smith, B. D. 2007. “The Ultimate Ecosystem Engineers.” Science 315: 1797–1798; Ellis, “Ecology in an Anthropogenic Biosphere.” 

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The Case for Protecting Half the Earth in Its Natural Condition

By Alison Snyder
Originally published June 22, 2017 in Axios

E.O. Wilson wants to finish what Carl Linnaeus started 300 years ago: cataloguing and naming all of Earth’s species.

But we’re only 20% of the way there, and he warns that if we fail to put half of Earth in nature preserves we will doom species — known and unknown. Our era, he says, could be remembered more for destroying Earth’s biological diversity than for technological advances.


Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Rebecca Zisser / Axios


Why he matters:

Wilson – whose expertise is ants – has become the planet’s conscience when it comes to biodiversity. In the early 1960s, he and his colleague Robert MacArthur mathematically described how islands could maintain a greater number of diverse species. That idea was the foundation for more exact planning of nature reserves, which he describes as islands in a sea of land, that are now a tenet of global conservation efforts.

I talked with Wilson about his idea to preserve half of Earth, whether biotechnology can save the planet’s biodiversity and more. Excerpts from the interview are below.

His big idea

Right now, the percent of land put aside in reserves worldwide is approximately 15% and the percent of sea preserve is somewhere around 3-5% We need to take measures to move that to 50%.

Recent studies have shown if we were to set aside the open sea as a worldwide reserve, that’s just about 50% of marine water worldwide.

If we had 50% of the marine waters which are open sea preserved and fishing stopped, the production of the fisheries would rise considerably worldwide. In other words, the best way to raise fisheries’ production worldwide to produce more food for people in the sea, is to prevent any more fishing in the open seas.

What are you going to do with the people in those reserves?

That comes up a little bit, but oddly, that hasn’t been seen as much of a problem to the conservation workers who do this with scientific input and imagine how this could be done. The reason that we’re not too worried about that is that you could create a reserve by selecting parts of the land that have both high diversity and relatively sparse human population.

Why it’s needed

Only one fifth [of species] have been stopped in the slide down towards extinction. Four-fifths have been continuing in spite of all our efforts around the world.

If we don’t stop it, we could have a completely changed and pulverized world by the end of the century. Then it can’t be reversed. The sentence will then record. They might record the 20th and 21st centuries not as the centuries of ripping casualties and misery from warfare, or centuries in which amazing technological advances were made, but as you get farther and farther in the future, they’ll look back and they say, “That’s when our ancestors wiped out most of the rest of life on Earth.”

A Linnaean renaissance:

Just a little past 2 billion [species have been] given a scientific name, started by Linnaeus, the great Swedish biologist back in 1735. How many actually exist? Answer: roughly 10 billion.

There’s an immense job ahead of us to do what I’ve been calling the Linnaean Renaissance. In other words, we need to finish the job that Linnaeus started of actually cataloging and taking account of all the species of organisms on Earth and ecosystems in which we live. Now, how fast are these species going into oblivion? The rate of extinction is estimated to be somewhere between 100 and 1,000 times what it was before the coming of humanity. It’s to the point where very roughly we could be down to half the species on Earth gone, extinct by the end of the century.

We’ve neglected biodiversity studies and ecology to the point, with reference especially to ecosystems and species, that we’ve almost abandoned them.

On the prospect of bringing back extinct species:

That’s a foolish mistake, because if species are going extinct at the rate we observe and then we project from vertebrate animals where we can actually make the measurements on down into the vast pool of species that are going extinct, from invertebrates and bacteria and algae and so on, that haven’t even been identified, much less characterized and looked after, then you can see what a hopeless situation it is to relax and get ready at some time in the future of reviving species that are going extinct.

Now, let’s suppose we could actually cover not just the 2 billion species we know, but somehow get preserves and put aside the whole gene package of each one of the species both known to us and still unknown. If we went that route, then it would be notably hopeless in an entirely different way. That is, you truly have Humpty Dumpty to put together. How are you going to, without knowing what the species are and how they were put together when they were alive and in their ecosystem without knowing most of that? How are you going to put the ecosystems back together again?

If you are looking at a particular species, like the passenger pigeon, that one has come up as possible for possible restoration, or the marsupial wolf of Australia, their ecosystems are gone in substantial part. The ones they lived in, we’re adapted to. How are you going to save them except maybe as a few curiosity specimens in a zoo or a botanical garden? That’s the basic flaw, aside from the fact that it would be monstrously expensive compared to actually saving them simply by increasing the size of our reserves and looking after them in their natural ecosystem.

Political will

Once we get the science fully established – and we’re making good progress on that – then we can know what the political prescriptions should be. Then in making those and ensuring their acceptance and maintenance, we need moral precepts that are the common feature of international agreements. The absolute moral prohibition of genocide, for example, the wished for goals of free movement of people, of civil rights and so on – into that cluster we should be moving saving the rest of life.

What’s Next? From Concert Tour to Half-Earth Day and Beyond

This June, Paul Simon shared the hope of E.O. Wilson’s grand vision for Half-Earth with concert goers across the nation. His unique voice and commitment to caring for our planet touched many people, and we’re grateful to everyone who has joined us in pursuing this hopeful solution. Together, we can work to save half of our planet’s lands and seas for all of life on Earth.

The Tour

From Florida to Ohio and Nevada to Wisconsin, and with many stops in between, the tour helped raise awareness, and engaged thousands. Concert goers, local communities and fans learned about the book Half-Earth, and how the Half-Earth Project is driving research and providing leadership to identify and protect biodiversity in special places around the world. We’re thrilled that more and more people have learned about Half-Earth through the tour, and encourage everyone to share this inspiring and hopeful solution with their friends and colleagues.


Photograph by Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL concert. June 15, 2017.

Photograph by Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL concert. June 15, 2017.


The Half-Earth Pledge

Are you in? During the tour, the Half-Earth Project launched the Half-Earth Pledge, which calls on everyone as global citizens to join us in getting to Half-Earth. Have you signed the pledge yet?

The pledge is easy and focuses on Half-Earth’s central goal: If we protect half our planet, we can save 85% or more of all species, including ourselves. The pledge calls on us all take three very simple steps:

• Share information about Half-Earth with your network.
• Participate in local conservation efforts.
• Support policies that protect the Earth’s lands and oceans.

Take the Half-Earth Pledge.



Half-Earth Project Programs

By signing the Half-Earth Pledge, you can help us connect with you about local and regional conservation efforts where you live. We also invite you to visit the Half-Earth Project programs section of our website to learn more about how our partners are working with us every day to help bring Half-Earth to life. These efforts are dramatically improving understanding of our world and what we must do to protect the planet’s biodiversity, such as:

• Field Research and Taxonomy: The Global Biodiversity Census initiative is 1) developing a comprehensive database of the Earth’s vast biodiversity, and 2) working with curators at museums and botanical gardens to share knowledge more efficiently in support of accelerated species discovery and classification. This information is a fundamental first step in guiding conservation efforts.

• Mapping: “What Half?” should we protect? We’re integrating multiple data layers in order to answer this question, looking locally, regionally, and globally at biodiversity status, conservation priorities, and human impacts to create a dynamic, interactive mapping tool that engages people everywhere in what places are important for protection of biodiversity.



Half-Earth Day

What’s next? We’re pleased to announce that plans are underway for Half-Earth Day. Half-Earth Day is planned as an annual event, halfway to the next Earth Day, which will celebrate milestones and achievements and inspire participation and action to drive further conservation towards the goal of Half-Earth. The first annual event will be held in Washington, DC, and is tentatively scheduled for October 23. Stay tuned for more information about all events.

Iconic Musician Paul Simon Concert Tour To Support Global Biodiversity

Proceeds from 19 city tour will support Half-Earth, the grand vision of renowned biologist, naturalist, author, Edward O. Wilson



Durham, NC, June 2, 2017 — Twelve-time Grammy winning musician and singer-songwriter Paul Simon is back on the road for a month-long U.S. tour to support the Half-Earth Project. The Half-Earth Project, an initiative of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, is committed to stopping the species extinction crisis by conserving half the planet’s lands and oceans. By conserving half the Earth, humanity can save 85 percent or more of all species.

“I could not be more delighted that Paul Simon is helping raise awareness of Half-Earth. Paul believes strongly in our work to save the planet’s biodiversity,” said Edward O. Wilson. “Species are the basic units of biodiversity, yet we are driving them to extinction up to 1,000 times faster than before the coming of humanity. If we do not move quickly to reverse our negative effects on the rest of life, its diversity will be diminished drastically to our loss and even endangerment.”

Simon kicked off his month-long tour in St. Augustine, Florida, and will perform in 19 U.S. cities before wrapping up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. All proceeds from the tour will be donated to the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation to support the Half-Earth Project.

“The Half-Earth Project provides urgently needed research and leadership to care for our planet,” said Paula Ehrlich, President and CEO of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. “The Half-Earth Project’s research programs are helping us better understand and care for our world. At the same time, we’re providing critical leadership to guide conservation efforts, and engaging people everywhere to participate in the goal to conserve Half-Earth. We’re asking everyone to take the Half-Earth Pledge and do what they can to preserve the Earth’s biodiversity. Together, as global citizens, we can protect the majority of species and our planet, the only home we will ever know.”

To learn more about Half-Earth, visit www.half-earthproject.org. To take the Half-Earth Pledge, visit www.half-earthproject.org/pledge.

                                                           ###

About the E.O. Wilson Foundation

The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation fosters a knowing stewardship of our world through biodiversity research and education initiatives that promote and inform worldwide preservation of our biological heritage.

About the Half-Earth Project
The Half-Earth Project has science at its core and our moral obligation to the rest of life at its heart. In collaboration with our partners, we are working to power one of the grandest conservation efforts of our time, and provide the urgently needed research, leadership and engagement necessary to conserve half the planet for the rest of life. Learn more at half-earthproject.org.


The hat that hung on his microphone stand all night is finally worn for the second encore, The hat, he explains, is from The Half-Earth Project created by biologist and author, Edward Wilson. His foundation formed the initiative, named after his book, “Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight For Life,” to aid in stopping the species extinction crisis by conserving half the planet’s land and oceans. Before playing “Questions For The Angels,” Simon announced that all the profits from this tour are going to his foundation.
— Nick Bequette, from “Paul Simon: Still Crazy Good After All These Years.” Clture.org. June 8, 2017.

PRESS COVERAGE

“Rhymin’ Simon Reprises a Career’s Worth of Hits at Big Gig.” On Milwaukee. By Bobby Tanzilo. July 1, 2017.

“Paul Simon Takes Audience on Nostalgic Journey.” Lake Tahoe News. By Susan Wood. June 27, 2017.

“Concert Review: Paul Simon Brings His Best in Spokane Arena Show.” The Spokeman-Review. By Carolyn Lamberson. June 24, 2017.

Interview with Paula Ehrlich about the Half-Earth Project. KTHX 100.1 FM (Reno, Nevada). June 23, 2017.

“Paul Simon Gives Tour de Force and a Sermonette.” The Daily KOS. By Quinn Hungeski. June 23, 2017.

“Paul Simon Gives Tour de Force and a Sermonette.” The Paragraph. By Quinn Hungeski. June 22, 2017.

“Paul Simon Made Joy Abundant at Northerly Island.Chicago Tribune. By Janine Schaults. June 15, 2017.

“Paul Simon’s Legacy and Activism Take Center Stage.”The Plain Dealer / Cleveland.com. By Chuck Yarborough. June 14, 2017.

“Concert Review: Paul Simon Riverbend Music Center.” Denny G’s Road Trips. By Denny Gibson. June 14, 2017.

“Paul Simon Delights Sold Out Crowd.” Cincy Music. By Courtney Phenicie. June 13, 2017.

“Paul Simon Performs at Toledo Zoo.” The Blade. By Amy E. Voigt. June 11, 2017.

“Paul Simon: Still Crazy Good After All These Years.” Clture.org. By Nick Bequette. June 8, 2017.

“10 Things to Do in the D.C. Area the Weekend of June 9-11.” Washington Post. June 8, 2017.

“Note to Paul Simon Fans: If You Missed His Charlotte Show, You Can Now Kick Yourself.” Charlotte Observer. By Theoden Janes. June 7, 2017.

“Four Voices Sing in Harmony for Justice.” Cincinnati.com. By Bill Thompson. June 7, 2017.

“Paul Simon’s Still Got It After All These Years.” Creative Loafing Charlotte. By Jeff Hahne. June 7, 2017.

WCCB News Rising. June 6, 2017.

“Concert Review: Paul Simon Mixes Things Up in St. Augustine Show.” The Florida Times-Union / Jacksonville.com. By Tom Szaroleta. June 2, 2017.

“Naked Puppets, Paul Simon and ADF Among the Shows to See in June.” News and Observer. By Mary Cornatzer. June 2, 2017.

“Summer Concert Guide: 31 Can’t-Miss Shows, from Kendrick Lamar to U2.” Washington Post. June 1, 2017.

“Paul Simon Touring U.S. in June.” Dan’s Papers. By Soth Team. April 16, 2017.

“Paul Simon Hits Concert Trail.” AARP.com. By Patrick J. Kiger. March 20, 2017.

“Paul Simon New Tour Could Help Save the Planet.” The Boot 99.7. March 14, 2017.

“Iconic Musician Paul Simon Announces Tour Supporting Biodiversity.” Mongabay. By Justin Catanoso. March 13, 2017.


Paula Ehrlich Interviewed on KTHX 100.1 FM about the Half-Earth Project and Paul Simon’s Concert Tour

Paula Ehrlich, President & CEO of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, was recently interviewed on the radio station KTHX 100.1 FM (Reno, NV). The interview touched on such topics as:

• the Half-Earth Project’s call-to-action to protect half the land and the sea for the rest of life, to help end the extinction crisis, and to protect our world and home

• Singer/Songwriter Paul Simon’s friendship with E.O. Wilson and support for the Half-Earth Project through his June concert tour

• the new audiences the Half-Earth Project is reaching through Paul Simon’s advocacy

• how people can take the Half-Earth Pledge and connect with Half-Earth via half-earthproject.org

“By singing and talking about our planet, our home, Paul Simon has drawn people to the Half-Earth Project in a new way. His words and music evoke a personal, emotional connection about the importance of conservation to our lives, and the way we live our lives. We are very grateful for all he is doing to support Half-Earth.”—Paula Ehrlich, President & CEO of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation


Paul Simon Tour Reaches Halfway Point in Support of Half-Earth

19-city tour inspires sold-out crowds, calls for people everywhere to help end species extinction crisis.

DURHAM, N.C., June 19, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Paul Simon has reached the midpoint in his month-long tour to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the planet’s biodiversity. Last month, Simon plugged the tour on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Simon is inspiring audiences across the U.S. with new and beloved songs, and donating tour proceeds to the Half-Earth Project, an initiative of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.


Photograph by Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL concert. June 15, 2017.

Photograph by Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL concert. June 15, 2017.


Simon first met E.O. Wilson at TED over a decade ago. In 2016, Simon reviewed Wilson’s book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight For Life, for The New York Times, saying, “Half-Earth is compulsory reading if we care about the lives of our children, our children’s children and all of the species alive today.”

Simon has talked about Half-Earth at each of his shows, often donning a Half-Earth cap. According to the CincyMusic website: “Throughout the show, a baseball cap with a small ‘e’ rested on his mic stand. Simon returned for Encore No. 2 with it atop his head for the first time. He explained, ‘This cap that I’m wearing…it represents an organization called Half-Earth that was started by a scientist, E.O. Wilson…his book, Half-Earth – which I recommend to anyone who is interested in ecology and the planet and saving what we’ve got – had a great effect on me.'”

Wilson said of the tour: “I am delighted that Paul Simon is helping raise awareness of Half-Earth. Paul believes strongly in our work to save the planet’s biodiversity.”

“Species are the basic units of biodiversity, yet we are driving them to extinction up to 1,000 times faster than before the coming of humanity,” said Wilson. “If we do not move quickly to reverse our negative effects on the rest of life, its diversity will be diminished drastically to our loss and even endangerment.”

Remaining concert cities include: Billings, Missoula, Spokane, Bend, Lake Tahoe, Denver and Milwaukee.


Photograph by Alex Carson. Charlotte, NC concert. From Clture.org. June 8, 2017.

Photograph by Alex Carson. Charlotte, NC concert. From Clture.org. June 8, 2017.


The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation fosters stewardship of our world through biodiversity research and education initiatives that promote and inform worldwide preservation of our biological heritage. The Half-Earth Project has science at its core and our moral obligation to the rest of life at its heart. To learn more about Half-Earth, visit www.half-earthproject.org.

Related Links
http://www.half-earthproject.org/  

https://eowilsonfoundation.org/

Read reviews and press coverage from the tour

CONTACT: Eric Williams, ehwilliams@fenton.com, 202-255-2205

Living on Earth: A Plan to Save More Than 80 Percent of Earth’s Species


A wildlife bridge helps critters safely cross the TransCanada Highway near Banff so that their habitats are connected. E.O. Wilson calls for an extensive, connected network of ecosystems to be reserved for nature in North America. Credit: WikiPedant/Wikimedia Commons.

A wildlife bridge helps critters safely cross the TransCanada Highway near Banff so that their habitats are connected. E.O. Wilson calls for an extensive, connected network of ecosystems to be reserved for nature in North America. Credit: WikiPedant/Wikimedia Commons.


A revered 87-year-old ecologist has created a bold new proposal to stem global species loss.

Distinguished Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson has won two Pulitzer Prizes, including one for a book on ants, and has been studying the challenge of species loss for years, focusing on unique habitats that should be conserved to protect the diverse ecological webs within them.

Now in his book, “Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life,” Wilson says we can preserve the bulk of species and ecosystems if we set aside half of the Earth’s surface, both land and sea.

“The conservation movement around the world has been doing everything possible in a conventional worldview, with nobility of purpose, with enormous energy and effort and dedication. It has saved a lot of species,” Wilson says. “But what most people don’t realize is that, in addition to those beautiful, big animals that we so admire and we see going extinct or are up to the brink of extinction, there are literally millions of smaller creatures that are the foundations of our ecosystem, both on the land and the sea, and that they, too, are probably disappearing at about the same rate. So, we simply are not doing enough.”

One-fifth of Earth’s vertebrates are “sliding down at a pretty rapid rate and going off the cliff to extinction, and of that one-fifth, we’re losing, even with our best efforts, 80 percent or so,” Wilson says. “So, we need something completely different.”

Wilson calculates that humans could set aside half of the Earth primarily for the millions of other species that inhabit the planet with us and save about 80 to 90 percent of the species, which would bring the extinction level down to what it was before the arrival of humanity.

As an example of how this could be done, Wilson proposes what he calls “squaring America.” The US could increase the current 10 to 15 percent of land and sea it now sets aside for conservation to about 50 percent simply by creating links and corridors among all these places — in essence, creating a reserve roughly equivalent to the lines of a massive square.

Wilson acknowledges that the majority of people don’t share his sense of urgency about species loss. He chalks this up to human nature — which he sees as a combination of evolutionary imperatives and stupidity. That is, we survived as a species, in part, because we do so many stupid things, including “constant war and tribal battles, internecine civic strife and conflict between religious faiths.”

“Our stock was the one that got hold of the capacities for language and dividing labors of cooperating groups,” he continues. “Our human ancestors were the one species that got out from Africa about 65,000 years ago, and, of course, as they multiplied in Africa itself, they would enter whole new natural environments. Everywhere they went, they found survival by utilizing everything they could get their hands on in that pristine environment.”

They began by killing off the native birds and mammals for food and then wiped out much of the plant environment when they developed agriculture about 12,000 years ago, Wilson explains. “That meant spoiling the original environment. We survived. We multiplied. We were Darwinian.”

“Those among us who did the most damage to the environment, to our benefit and riches, were the ones who typically got ahead of the competitors in the next area over,” he continues. “Surely that has had an effect on the evolution of human rapaciousness when it comes to dealing with environment.”

“That’s why it makes it so hard to say, ‘Please halt and reconsider before you mow down that rainforest. Please consider leaving enough space on the surface of the Earth and the sea for those estimated 10 million other species that exist and which we are wiping out at a rapid rate,’” he says.

Reducing ecosystems by allowing species to become extinct weakens the system as a whole, making it vulnerable to accelerating change and collapse, Wilson says. He believes the human race is “racing toward almost lethal conditions for life as a whole if we continue on our present path.”

Perhaps paradoxically, Wilson is optimistic about the role technology could play in conserving biological diversity. The digital revolution may, at first glance, seem bad for the natural environment, but Wilson believes it has qualities that “point to a lessened size of what’s called the ecological footprint.”

“Ecological footprint is the amount of area — of space, if you wish to make it three-dimensional — required by the average person to maintain, for that one person, all the necessities of life,” he explains. “These range from food to water to shelter to entertainment to governance and on and on. For most of the world, it’s one to 10 acres, depending on the country. For America, it’s much higher than anybody else, and it’s not sustainable.”

Wilson believes the digital world will shrink our ecological footprint because of “the nature of economic evolution: People want and they will select, if they have any choice, instruments and material goods that are smaller, consume less energy and material, and need to be fixed less frequently. All of that means that the ecological footprint is destined to shrink,” he says.

“If we can now keep our hands off the natural areas in the world, if we can devise entertainment and fulfillment making use of all of the accoutrements and monuments of digital age, and develop a conservation ethic, I envision a possible paradise for humanity by the 22nd century,” he concludes.

This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood.

Paul Simon Discusses Half-Earth on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert


Paul Simon appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last night to talk about his upcoming 19-city tour in June, and how it will benefit the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and support E.O. Wilson’s grand vision for Half-Earth. 


I read the book and I was very moved by it. What he is saying essentially is that there is a way of preserving the planet and allowing the human race to continue the way it is going along, but we have to start now preserving the species that we have. Once extinction begins, it can’t be reversed.
— Paul Simon

Watch Paul Simon’s interview below with host Stephen Colbert and read a transcript of their conversation about Half-Earth and the importance of protecting species and our planet.

Read more about Paul Simon’s support of the Half-Earth Project here.

Take the Half-Earth pledge to end species extinction and protect our planet.



Colbert: Well you’ve got a tour coming up starting June 1st. Starting just the end of next week actually, right?
 
Simon: That’s right. 

Colbert: OK. Great summer tour. But here’s the thing, I just found out about this, is that all profits from this tour will go to E.O. Wilson’s Biodiversity Foundation. For those of you who don’t know E.O. Wilson, you should, because he is one of the great writers on biodiversity. He is a giant in environmental research. This is his book Half-Earth, that came out last year. Why this? Why do you want to do this with your tour?

Simon: Well, I was very moved by that book. You talked to him on your show.

Colbert: Yeah. Yeah, we had him on the old gig. Yeah.

Simon: Basically what he is saying, I don’t want to make a lecture out of this, nor is the tour a lecture tour. It’s a pure…

Colbert: So there are no slideshows or anything like that.

Simon: No slideshows.

Colbert: There’s no test at the end?

Simon: Just… (laughs)

Colbert: At the end of the encores, ok yeah.

Simon: That’s a good thought. No. Anyway, I read the book and I was very moved by it. What he is saying essentially is that there is a way of preserving the planet and allowing the human race to continue the way it is going along, but we have to start now preserving the species that we have. Once extinction begins, it can’t be reversed. Once ecosystems are, you know, disintegrating, they can’t be restored. 

Colbert: People say that we are actually in the middle of a sixth great extinction right now.

Simon: And that we might possibly be in the beginning of a sixth great extinction, which means life on the planet dies. All life. 

Colbert: (singing) Feeling groovy. Keep it light. Keep it light.


Additional Segments from Paul Simon’s Appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert



Update: Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit Has Far-Reaching Impact

On April 22, Dr. Paula Ehrlich, President & CEO of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, presented on the ideas and vision behind the Half-Earth Project at the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit in Washington, DC.

The impact of the inaugural gathering can begin to be measured by just-released attendance figures and outreach results:

• 1,480 registrants attended the summit, with hundreds more walking through the Innovation Commons to enjoy the 20 interactive exhibits

• 237 presenters were featured in seven plenaries and 35 “deep dives,” all of which were well attended

• Beyond the conference, via live stream and social media, the summit reached and inspired hundreds of thousands of people online. Videos of the Plenaries and Amphitheater sessions captured via FacebookLive on the website.  All remaining “deep dive” sessions will be added to the website, as will the final report on the success of the summit, in the coming weeks.

Beyond the summit, 19 Earth Optimism events were held in museums and galleries of the Smithsonian in Washington, New York, Anacostia and Panama City, Panama. In 10 countries around the world – from Colombia to New Zealand – sister organizations hosted 26 events celebrating their own success stories and inspiring hope for the planet.

Paula Ehrlich’s presentation at the panel, “Science, Conservation, Inspiration: Artists, Scientist, and Institutions Coming Together,” is available via the video recording of the session below (panel begins at approximately the 38:00 mark):



Transcript from the video:

For 3.5 billion years, Earth has been home to countless species. Sadly, human activity has led us to an existential crossroads. We’re losing the natural world at an unprecedented pace. The rate of species extinction is 1,000 times higher than at any time in Earth’s human history.

While we’ve dramatically slowed species loss, we haven’t done nearly enough.

One of the world’s greatest naturalists and thought-leaders, E.O. Wilson, has a solution. He calls it Half-Earth.

Half-Earth is a call to action to protect half of the planet’s lands and oceans, and end the extinction crisis. If we save half, we protect 85% or more of all species.

So how could we possibly do this, protect half the planet? Well, it requires a grand moonshot-like effort.

Here’s where E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation’s Half-Earth Project comes in.

The Half-Earth Project is at work to
1) drive the research needed to better understand and care for our world,
2) provide leadership to guide conservation efforts, and
3) engage people everywhere to participate broadly in the goal to conserve Half-Earth.

We champion research to deepen our understanding and support conservation efforts and stewardship. We’ve created a Knowledge Platform and Mapping Core that will help identify global opportunities to protect species and people. I invite you to learn more about Half-Earth Project by visiting www.half-earthproject.org.

In closing, I’m pleased to announce that Paul Simon will launch a concert tour this summer to raise awareness about the extinction crisis and the importance of Half-Earth. Join us on the concert tour and take part in this incredible journey to conserve half the planet for the rest of life.

—Paula Ehrlich