Losing a defender of nature’s species | Opinion


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“By the time the rains came” threatening the end of all living things, “Noah, his family and the animals were all safe aboard the Ark,” states a cartoonist’s description of this parable from the ‘Old Testament in the New Yorker, December 27. This followed one day the death of the famous Harvard biologist EO Wilson at the age of 92, who, perhaps more than any other modern naturalist, chronicled the species that make up the living world and worked for them. to preserve.

He was born in Birmingham in the Old South. Even at the age of 7, as he described in a 1994 book, “Naturalist”, the “amazing” creatures he observed at the beach fascinated him. Although he lost the sight in his right eye to a pinfish attack during one of the “enchanted” outdoor adventures, he decided early on to become a scientist in order to “stay close to the natural world. “. In numerous books over a long career as a researcher, he went on to describe the beauty, variety and seemingly innumerable abundance of life forms on the planet, as well as their behavior and important functions in maintaining productive capacity of ecosystems.

One of his latest books is devoted to the rate at which species are disappearing and what the ongoing mass extinction means for the well-being and long-term survival of the human species. “Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life” issues a warning that “the endgame of biodiversity conservation is being played out in the 21st century.” He passionately advocates for change, that we “give the rest of life a chance” and preserve it for future generations.

Species extinction is now almost a thousand times higher than in prehistoric times. Wilson lists the causes, in order of their destructive impacts, in a HIPPO acronym of habitat destruction and climate change, invasive species, pollution, population growth and overhunting. Through these, such as blasting mountain forests for coal, blanketing landscapes in asphalt, acidifying oceans and killing microbial life in the soil through industrial agriculture practices, ecosystems and species are disappearing at the fastest rate in 65 million years.

The book cites the Endangered Species Act as a significant conservation success. More than 30 years after its establishment, 227 species that otherwise would likely have become extinct have been saved. But he regrets that the overall level of effort, mainly political, is well below what is necessary.

As another positive example, it discusses the biodiversity census of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. By March 2014, this had documented a rich diversity of 18,200 plant and animal species still living there, illustrating an important conservation principle that Wilson’s earlier research had established. Large patches tend to be successfully self-sustaining, but in the small “islands” of habitat such as today’s land-use planning practices typically create, a sustained abundance of interdependent life forms cannot not persist.

It reminds us that humans too are a biological species, dependent on the clean air and water, clothing and shelter materials and food, that the flora and fauna of the earth provide. He sees hope for conservation in our innate biophilia, or love of the living world, and in new technologies that are moving the economy away from fossil fuels, for example, and vastly changing our ways of life.

“Half-Earth” proposes that 50% of the world’s land and oceans be set aside in protected reserves, mainly by creating connecting corridors between already existing areas and establishing others in known hotspots of the biodiversity. Several thousand plots large and small, in all countries and on all continents, already benefit from some degree of protection. But our concern for these and other landscapes needs to be reinforced – humanity must fundamentally change its perceived role in the world, from that of conqueror of nature to that of its global steward.

Halfway and above the world’s oceans and lands protected, Wilson suggests that “life enters the safe zone.” Although this Noah’s Ark would not save all living species, he estimates it would save 85%, each “a wonder to behold” and champion of a million-year-old evolutionary struggle. We can be grateful that, to begin with, as the New York Times said in an obituary tribute, President Biden and many governments are “seriously discussing how to implement a ’30×30′ goal – setting aside 30% of Earth’s land and water for nature in 2030.”

Frances Lamberts of Jonesborough is an environmental conservation advocate.

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