In the last week of 2021, we lost three great luminaries in the fight to protect our lands, waters and wildlife: former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBlack Democrats hammer Manchin for backing filibuster on voting rights Psaki pushes back on criticism of Biden’s voting rights speech Former colleagues honor Reid at ceremony on Capitol Hill MORE; creator of the term “biodiversity”, Thomas Lovejoy; and biologist and ecologist EO Wilson. Their work has spanned the globe, over many decades and in different fields, but they have left us all a common legacy through their deep connection to nature and the bold conservation actions that will survive them.
Now he’s the president Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Democratic campaign arm overtakes GOP counterpart in final quarter of 2021 Putin’s ‘Brezhnev Doctrine’ involving Ukraine could backfire on inflationin turn to build on this heritage.
Their commitment to conservation came from a place of love and loss. The unique Nevada desert that Reid cherished as a child has been degraded and destroyed. The rainforest explored by Lovejoy has been burned down. Wilson watched species, including those he studied, disappear one by one. As they cried, each became determined to protect nature, so that nature in turn could support us.
As numerous reminiscences of the former Senate Majority Leader have noted, a close reading of the Congressional record shows that Reid spent half his time in Congress advocating for conservation, seeking to protect countless places across the West to share with future generations.
As former executive director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality from 2015 to 2017, I experienced Reid’s passion for the conservation of Nevada’s natural sites when I worked with him then. that he urged the former president barack obamaBarack Hussein Obama’s disastrous 48 hoursJoe Biden Biden selects Sarah Bloom Raskin, two others for Fed board Romney says it would be ‘crazy’ for RNC to block nominees from committee debates MORE to designate Basin and Range and Gold Butte National Monuments. At the signing of the Basin and Range Proclamation, he thanked me for my work and said I must have had a “cauliflower ear” because of all the times he called me to check on me. designation status. Truth be told, it was his phenomenal staff that usually made the call, but it was his personal determination that got the job done.
While Reid was driven by his deep love for the vast Western landscape, his conservation accomplishments and others like them had a solid scientific basis in the groundbreaking work of Lovejoy and Wilson. In 1980, Lovejoy created the first projection of global extinction rates in a report to the then president. Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterJimmy Carter on Political Divide: The United States is ‘Tottering on the Brink of a Widening Abyss’ To Save America, We Need a Council of Presidents. The startling estimates that landed on Carter’s desk were based on Wilson’s pioneering work on the link between habitat size and species extinction. Essentially, Wilson’s work underpins the now obvious idea that as forests are cut down and wetlands are drained for development, the number of species able to survive in what was left of nature will become smaller and smaller.
This is the very crisis in which we – as a country and as a world – find ourselves today. The fragments of the natural world are becoming fewer and smaller. The United States is losing an area of natural space the size of a football field every 30 seconds – and with it, our most powerful tool in the fight against climate change. Due to the destruction of natural areas, the United States is wasting the equivalent of 15% of nature’s sequestration potential each year. If we do nothing, as Wilson said, “we will never recover from the loss of species that we have carelessly allowed to happen simply through our ordinary day-to-day activities. Extinction is forever.
That’s why Biden’s historic pledge to protect 30% of America’s land, freshwater and oceans by 2030 is so important. To save us – to ensure that the plants and animals that clean our air, pollinate our crops and protect our natural areas from our climate emergency continue to survive – we must stop this reckless loss of nature. We must look to the leadership of indigenous peoples around the world whose stewardship of nature is extremely effective. We must ensure that all people, both those who make a living from it and those who seek other means of subsistence, benefit from the benefits of nature. And we must be guided by science.
Lovejoy and Wilson showed us that the fate of nature is our fate, and Reid showed us how to take a bold and ambitious political path to conserve places for future generations. Now it’s Biden’s turn to protect nature, to protect us.
Christy Goldfuss is senior vice president of energy and environmental policy at the Center for American Progress.