Since the passing of E.O. Wilson at age 92 on December 26, an outpouring of condolences, remembrances, and tributes have been shared from around the world. World leaders, distinguished scientists, former students, and conservation giants have offered their thoughts on the incredible impact and inspiration “Ed” had on their lives.
The 42nd US President William J. Clinton wrote, “E.O. Wilson taught us so much about the importance of preserving our rich biodiversity, and perhaps more significant today, how cooperation, not conflict, has enabled humanity to survive and thrive. His later books left us a roadmap for the future.”
Dr. Wilson, a pioneering ecologist, entomologist, author, and teacher for over 70 years, influenced the fields of biology, philosophy, sociology and more. He had thousands of students at Harvard University and his research, lectures, and writings influenced countless more.
“E.O. Wilson’s messages reached millions, whether in the classroom, the field, or through his writings. His love of the natural world taught us to observe wildlife with razor sharp curiosity,” shared Dr. Elizabeth Gray of the National Audubon Society.
“Every conservationist and ecologist owes their career path in some way to Ed,” offered Dr. M. Sanjayan of Conservation International.”
A U.S. medal of Science winner, two-time Pulitzer prize winner, and author of over 30 works, including the groundbreaking works Sociobiology, Consilience, and Half-Earth, the world came to know him through his writings which profoundly shaped modern science.
John Francis, formerly at the National Geographic Society and a longtime friend offered, “There’s no one like him who has the power of writing along this difficult frontier in a way that’s so careful and wonderful and rich.”
Robert Weil, Dr. Wilson’s editor of more than 20 years at Norton remarked in his tribute, “Like most things that Ed wrote about in that last, long feverish spurt of creative genius, he remained most concerned about the parlous state of our environment and worked tirelessly, with Paula Ehrlich (CEO & President of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation) and so many others, to use his inestimable clout to make a difference.”
Known as “Darwin’s natural heir,” many came to know Dr. Wilson through his rich and significant contributions to the study of human behavior, science, philosophy and conservation. However, E.O. Wilson knew the synthesis of these things would lead to a deeper understanding of our natural world and our place in it.
Wilson once shared, “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”
Friend and supporter of the Half-Earth Project, James M. Stone reflected, “His contribution to our understanding of social insect behavior and communication would have been enough to earn him enduring admiration. His seminal contributions to the field of human behavioral evolution would similarly have been sufficient by themselves. And his powerful influence on so many people’s sense of responsibility toward our planet and all of its other living occupants would alone have made him a giant. Who else can claim achievements of that magnitude in three different arenas?”
Already in the midst of a long and stupendous scientific career, Dr. Wilson eventually came to focus attention on the degradation of the environment.
Wilson has said, “A very Faustian choice is upon us: whether to accept our corrosive and risky behavior as the unavoidable price of population and economic growth, or to take stock of ourselves and search for a new environmental ethic.”
Many of Dr. Wilson’s admirers and devotees acknowledged the impact of Dr. Wilson’s challenge to humanity to act together to save the biosphere.
Greg Carr, President at the Gorongosa Restoration Project reflected, “Professor Wilson amplified his scientific understanding of life into a love of all living creatures and a respect for the dignity of all human beings. He taught all of us that self-awareness is a blessed wonder, the variety of living forms miraculous, and worship of Nature a spiritual activity.”
Dawn Wright, Chief Scientist at Esri shared, “Our great friend E.O. Wilson, a truly special, wonderful Earthling, will be deeply missed by the conservation and the GIS community! Nevertheless, his message remains clear and we continue the work in earnest.”
Carter S. Roberts of the World Wildlife Fund offered, “His 2016 book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, delivered a call to arms to set aside half the planet if we hoped to save life on Earth, including our own. It laid the groundwork for the conservation community’s current vision of protecting 30% of the planet by 2030 as a step toward that vision.”
Most of all, the many notes shared about Dr. Wilson’s passing sought to reflect on his uncanny ability to center his attention on whomever he was engaged with, understand them, and then offer encouragement.
Former student and entomologist, Dr. Corrie Moreau shared, “Few people on the planet have ever had the impact that E.O. Wilson has had. This is not only due to his brilliant and innovative mind, but his generous personality and belief that anyone could make important contribution to biodiversity.”
Alabama Middle School History Teacher of the Year, Jaclyn Foster wrote, “I am so sad to learn of the passing of legendary scientist Dr. E.O. Wilson. I will never forget the time he spent with myself, my son, and my students helping them with their National Geographic Education projects for the Geo Challenge.”
Put simply Dr. Wilson believed in himself, and he believed in people. His belief is at the core of the work of the Half-Earth Project, the mobilization of humanity to a higher purpose, to save the natural world by conserving half the land and seas for nature.
Dr. Wilson once said, “You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.”
A celebration of E.O. Wilson’s life is planned for 2022.
OBITUARIES (updated Jan. 4, 2022)
Los Angeles Times
Wall Street Journal
WBUR, All Things Considered (radio)
El Pais (Spain)
The Irish Times
ABC News (AP)
FoxNews10 Mobile, Alabama (TV Report)
The New Yorker
The Conversation (Doug Tallamy)
New American Journal
Crimson White (University of Alabama)
University of Alabama News Center
WBUR / Cognoscenti
The Harvard Crimson
The Harvard Gazette