The Top 10 Half-Earth Project Stories of 2021
This is our moment, and we are seizing it.
The Half-Earth Project took significant action this year to elevate the goal of conserving half the earth to protect biodiversity. Despite the global pandemic, we took our message to a global audience of world-leaders, influential scientists, educators, and conservationists like you. We also saw the death of E.O. Wilson, for which the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation was named.
2021 was a big year for biodiversity – the world’s leading scientists and policymakers met in the first part of the Convention of Parties for Biological Diversity to agree to a new commitment to protect life on earth. There were calls for tackling climate and biodiversity loss together at COP 26 in Glasgow. Adopting the interim goal of setting aside 30% of land and seas by 2030 or “30×30” has become an important step on the way to Half-Earth. Also, several new scientific studies advanced the science of protecting biodiversity so we leave no species behind.
The Half-Earth Project was right there sharing our message in the media, on webinars, scientific journals, films, podcasts, and global events – from Half-Earth Day in London to Global Citizen Live – advocating for the best science to discover, identify, map, and protect the web of life that sustains us all.
So let’s take a look back and countdown 2021’s biggest moments and stories at the Half-Earth Project that made a difference for nature.
Here are our top stories for 2021.
- We marked the passing of E.O. Wilson (1929 – 2021) at the age of 92. “In his last years, E.O. Wilson made a constant plea, underscoring the need for broader research to better understand the species of our planet, and what places best nurture them, to ensure we prioritize protection of the places that species uniquely depend upon. The science and mapping of the Half-Earth Project is transforming our understanding of the world and what we need to do to care for it. To succeed we must now inspire informed collective action to ensure that we leave no species behind,” said Paula J. Ehrlich, CEO & President of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, and co-founder of the Half-Earth Project.
- Paul Simon, the legendary singer-songwriter and E.O. Wilson shared the grand ambition of Half-Earth onstage at the Global Citizen Live concert, which broadcast to half a million viewers worldwide. “When I first heard Ed Wilson speak, he said something that really struck me. He said we have the ability to make this world a paradise. And I believe and he believes, we still have that potential. We know it’s going to be hard work but that’s where we are headed,” Simon shared.
- Thousands of listeners heard the hopeful message of Half-Earth through radio and podcast appearances this year. Dennis Liu, VP of Education at the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, offered insight into the advantages and opportunities in working with teachers on conservation education on the ReWilding podcast. Foundation CEO Paula Ehrlich discussed how innovative science and a shift in consciousness can guide an approach to the extinction crisis with Half-Earth as the inspiration for interim goals like 30×30 on Climate One.
- Readers of Mongabay, the largest online conservation magazine, took a deep dive into the unique science of the Half-Earth Project and learned how the Species Protection Index (SPI) works to inform countries of their areas of high biodiversity that remain unprotected. Mongabay also covered Half-Earth Day in an in-depth interview with E.O. Wilson, alongside Sir Tim Smit (Eden Project), and Paula Ehrlich. Read the interview here.
- E.O. Wilson’s message reached thousands of people around the world in new interviews. Reuter’s “Harvard’s modern-day Darwin warns against humanity’s downward slope,” is a call-to-action to address the extinction threat. Also, in the Vox series Down to Earth: the Biodiversity Crisis Explained, “This legendary 92-year-old biologist has some advice for saving Earth”, Wilson offers this wisdom, “It requires a sense of personal responsibility and merit to save parts of the world that are very valuable for our history, for our welfare, and — unfortunately — are very vulnerable to careless destruction.”
- The Half-Earth Project helped ensure more diverse perspectives weighed in on 30×30 in the US with a signature event, “Half-Earth Project in Alabama,” and launching a new discussion series “Places and Voices of America the Beautiful.” Voices from the Gullah Geechee community, and local peoples from Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina spoke to their own hopes and aspirations for the Biden-Administration’s plans to fight climate change and end biodiversity loss, while holding up their own unique places’ conservation challenges.
- World-leaders and scientists from North and South America were urged by Half-Earth Project Science Chair Walter Jetz to see “nature-based solutions” as essential but needing measurable benefits for biodiversity at the High-Level Dialogue on Climate Change in the Americas.
- “Courageous Optimism” was the subject of a conversation with indigenous climate activist Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim and Paula Ehrlich on Half-Earth Day. “You have a role to play…we are asking you to do what you do, better,” Ibrahim shared.
- In the midst of key meetings by world-leaders at the Convention on Biological Diversity, scientists associated with the Half-Earth Project, Walter Jetz, D. Scott Rinnan, Jen McGowan, et. al, have urged that area-based conservation targets use the latest cutting-edge biodiversity indicators to account for uneven global biodiversity between countries, and that parties provide direct planning support to countries in need of more resources to measure biodiversity. The Species Protection Index (SPI) is one such key indicator already in use in the Half-Earth Project map to help countries identify where to best prioritize areas for the protection of biodiversity.
- In 2021, Half-Earth Day went global. The hybrid-virtual event due to the pandemic was live from all over the world – from London and Boston, to Singapore and Bangladesh. Over 5600 attendees from over 90 countries attended lectures from distinguished scientists like Johan Rockström. The capstone event featured E.O. Wilson’s new lecture “Ecosystems and the Harmony of Nature,” followed by a live conversation between Sir David Attenborough and E.O. Wilson, moderated by Sir Tim Smit. Every lecture and panel can be viewed here in the Half-Earth Day 2021 showcase.
It was hard to pick just 10! Here are other notable moments this year.
- The foundation heralded the America the Beautiful plan by the Biden-Harris Administration in support of “30×30,” the interim goal of setting aside 30% of land and seas by 2030 on the way to Half-Earth.
- To drive engagement with the Half-Earth Project Map, we delved into the world of hummingbirds to show how conservation biology and area-based conservation can shine a light on species. Educators were provided a guided enquiry including resources, supporting videos, and a new hummingbird storymap to reveal the richness and rarity of these charismatic birds with their students.
- Saving Biodiversity: The Next Big Thing, premiered at Half-Earth Day. This new film, narrated by Paula Ehrlich explains the work of the Half-Earth Project and captures the urgency of the moment inviting viewers to join the movement. The film also aired at the Global Citizen Live event. Watch the film here.
- Our technology partner Esri, always advancing conservation through mapping, launched GIS for Science Vol. 3 – Maps for Saving the Planet. Maps for Saving the World features a foreword by E.O. Wilson and a chapter on the science of the Half-Earth Project. Esri also made it easier for anyone to find and access our content collaboration at GISforScience.com.
- The global business community learned more about the mission of the Half-Earth Project from appearances and presentations at the Citi Sustainable Speakers Series, Domini Funds Community Forum, Ceres Project, See Change Sessions with Sierra Nevada Brewing, and the American Sustainable Business Council.
- This year, the Half-Earth Project Map continued to evolve and improve so advocates could use it to call for greater biodiversity protection in their own areas of interest. The map got new biodiversity layers, new color ramps, an updated menu and new color ramps, as well as a new way to access the National Report Cards.
- We reached an influential community of biodiversity advocates this year when E.O. Wilson opened the 2021 Global Biodiversity Festival. The appearance included a presentation from foundation CEO Paula Ehrlich on the importance of protecting biodiversity, alongside dozens of renowned ecologists, biologists, and explorers from around the world.
- On Earth Day, the Library of America celebrated E.O. Wilson, and the launch of a new volume of his collected works in a live tribute featuring Bill Finch (Paint Rock Research Center), Wilson biographer Richard Rhodes, and foundation CEO Paula Ehrlich.
- Former New Yorker staff writer Tony Hiss made “…a passionate argument for protecting the world’s rapidly shrinking wilderness,” in Rescuing the Planet: Protecting Half the Land to Heal the Earth, which included a foreword by E.O. Wilson.
- Pulitzer-prize winning biographer, Richard Rhodes, told E.O. Wilson’s remarkable life story in Scientist: E.O. Wilson, a Life in Nature. Author Elizabeth Kolbert elegantly reviewed the book while weaving in today’s extinction crisis in The New Yorker.