Video narration: Threats to the natural world are multiplying. Species are going extinct at an alarming rate. Unless we move quickly to protect global biodiversity we will soon lose most of the species composing life on Earth. But there’s a solution, it’s called Half Earth. If we conserve half the land and sea, we can still safeguard the bulk of our planet’s biodiversity.
But what would Half Earth look like? How do we get there? By mapping our planet’s biodiversity in fine detail and in relation to human activities, we can pinpoint the best places to conserve the maximum number of species. Mindful of our ever-changing world, we can identify wildlife corridors and other management solutions that can help sustain biodiversity. With the right information to guide conservation efforts we have the right opportunity to support the most biodiverse places in the world as well as the people who call these paradises home.
The Half Earth Project is working to engage people everywhere in why these places are special and how they can best be managed to protect life on Earth. Through cutting-edge technology, we’re mapping the magnificent global web of biodiversity with unprecedented resolution and providing scientific leadership and actionable guidance for conservation to achieve the goal of Half Earth.
We can share this precious planet of ours. All life can prosper. It would be humanity’s greatest achievement. Can we really save half the Earth? Yes, we can if we want to. Yeah, it’s getting up that’s hard.
Paul Alivisatos: Good evening and welcome! I’m Paul Alivisatos, the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost and I’m really deeply honored and frankly thrilled and curious to be here this evening to act as your MC. I think I can stand a little bit as a proxy. I’m a faculty member in chemistry. I do research in nanoscience and like, I think, hundreds of faculty, many many thousands of students and many friends and staff on the Berkeley campus, I’d like to be able to contribute to what the future of our planet will be like.
But to do that from my own vantage point, I feel I really need some kind of overarching context. Some way of thinking about the overall problems that we face in the topic of environment, energy, biodiversity and so tonight’s event, I think, will be just phenomenally important for so many of us to learn about how can we think about the greatest challenges that we face?
We will be inspired tonight by the renowned biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson, who has been a leading voice in this whole field for over 60 years. He has expressed a vision and call to action to conserve half the earth’s land and sea to provide sufficient habitat to safeguard the biodiversity of this planet, including ourselves. He and the Half Earth are bringing this grand ambition to life.
Earlier today, Half Earth Conference participants really engaged in a deep give-and-take around the science and technology with members from many people, many colleagues from around the world coming to participate in that wonderful event. There were people from nonprofit sectors, government, education, and the private sector, all coming together to think about this enormous challenge under the context of this powerful guiding framework. We’re gonna have a spectacular program tonight. But before we begin the formal program, we have an unexpected but very special guest to welcome you, please welcome the 34th and 39th Governor of California, Jerry Brown.
Jerry Brown: Thank you! I take that as cheering for the ecosystem, of which I am a proud member. Because it’s not us against the environment, but it’s us in the environment, part of the environment. And as one goes, so goes the other. And that’s what we’re here tonight to talk about! We have a lot of issues, certainly I can tell you in the political world there’s lots of concern about housing and homeless and healthcare and all sorts of things. Not to mention all those strange people in Washington. That’s really big, but what’s even bigger and more profound and all-encompassing is the web of life of which we are a very small part. But a part that is so powerful that some say we’re bringing about the sixth extinction. That really is our business right now. It’s not just progress, it’s not just power, and it’s not just wealth, it’s extinction! And we’ve gotta find a way to get on the side of nature instead of just fighting it. And EO Wilson has given us a pretty simple idea.
Let’s leave half the Earth for everybody else for whom we depend and the arrogance of the human being, the arrogance that has lead to all the greatness can also lead to the utter destruction. In fact it is, in fact we don’t need to wait for the sixth extinction. We have thousands of nuclear warheads. We’ve got 7,000 at least, Russia has 7,000 and they’re on 30-minute alert. In a few minutes, it could all be over, poof! Now I hope that those characters in Washington and in Moscow chill. And give us a little time to work on the other extinction! Which we still have some time to stop. We can’t stop it all, but we can slow it down and ultimately get to a point where we can save, according to Professor Wilson, 85% of the species.
And in California, we are making the maps, we are doing the research, you are! The university is in the lead! Principally right here, but also the other universities and we’re identifying the plants, the insects, the animals, the fauna, the flora! It’s so important that we get acquainted with our home and you’d never know how important it is by looking at your cell phone, listening to the radio, television, your iPhone, there’s so much noise that we don’t even see too often what we’re standing on, where we are, and what we are a part of.
So, tonight you’re gonna hear about, you can hear about all this from the guy who’s really pioneered and has been the visionary to wake us up to who we are, where we are, and what the stakes are and the stakes are can we reorient this civilization so it’s not just based on hamburgers and electric cars and hospitals and housing and symphonies, but also on our deep reverence and connection to all living things? And that’s what we’re here tonight to talk about, to understand, and ultimately to protect and to keep half the land.
Now, keeping half the land for the other people is really hard, it’s really hard. Because they don’t have lobbyists. They don’t have the powerful people. They don’t got the money, they don’t have any degrees. So somehow we have to be the stewards to protect the other half, the half that will sustain us. Because we don’t know when is the species that dies and goes extinct and we go with it, like the canary in the coal mine. That’s where we are, tonight we’re gonna learn a little more. So, thank you very much, hold onto your hat, we’re on a rough ride here through planetary space. And please let’s keep it going for a few more millennia, thank you.
Paul Alivisatos: Thank you, Governor Brown. Now, onto tonight’s program, which is a discussion of nothing less than how to save the natural world. Tonight, Dr. Steven Lockhart will introduce the problem, the crisis that we are facing. Then Dr. Walter Yates will present the science behind the solution, featuring the Half Earth Project Map. Using integrated layers of high resolution data to identify those places where we have the best opportunity to protect the most species.
Tonight’s lecture, “Half Earth: How to Save the Natural World,” is sponsored by the Berkeley College of Natural Resources. It’s an amazing college and we are all so grateful to have our colleagues from CNR to teach us. But the lecture is specifically sponsored by the Horace M. Albright Lecture in Conservation and the James M. and Catherine D. Stone Foundation, distinguished lectureship in biodiversity. We are just deeply grateful to these longterm supporters of the lectureships for making tonight’s special program possible.
Let me take a moment now to introduce our first speaker, Dr. Steven Lockhart. He is the Chief Medical Officer for Sutter Health. That’s a not-for-profit system of hospitals, physician organizations, and research institutions in Northern California. He is a Rhodes Scholar, he obtained his master’s degree in economics from Oxford University and M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell. He’s an avid climber and backpacker. He has a longstanding passion for providing environmental science education and introducing our national parks to an increasingly diverse population.
He serves on the boards of the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, Nature Bridge, and National Parks Conservation Association as well as REI, he was previously a member of the National Parks Second Century Commission, which in 2009 truly laid a foundation for thinking about the next chapter in the lives of our national parks. So Steve, welcome, we’re so grateful to have you.
Steven Lockhart: Good evening! Well I was supposed to talk about the problem so here I am. We fixed the problem but that’s not the problem we’re here to talk about. Change, one word, one syllable. But it’s a powerful, powerful word. On the one hand, change can evoke a sense of fear and anxiety. On the other, change can open a door for a brighter, more sustainable future.
“Change” — one word, an important word that we’re gonna talk a lot about tonight. Now, as a kid growing up in the 1960s, we had a lot of change. We had the Vietnam War, we had the Civil Rights Movement, and we suffered through the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. And we had the Space Race, that was a lot of change. Now when you’re young, you wanna see the world. I know that I did. And I thought the best way to do that would be to become an astronaut and see the world from space.
But at that time, a young black kid from St. Louis like me, with the prevailing sentiments around race, that just wasn’t gonna happen. So, I found another way to see the world, the natural world, and that was by joining the Boy Scouts. My uncle was the troop leader of our segregated troop, but he took us outdoors and that was invigorating. That was exciting and it was liberating because all of those societal strictures and constraints just didn’t exist in the out of doors. And that created in me an abiding love for the natural world and a fierce determination to protect the Earth’s natural resources.
And, in my opinion, the future of the earth depends on instilling that same abiding love and fierce determination in every member of the next generation. Now this thinking led me to join an organization about 20 years ago — the board of an organization called Nature Bridge because their mission is to create the next generation of environmental stewards by educating them in national parks. And part of being a board member, of course, is that you meet other board members and one of the board members I met was a founding member of the organization, a fellow named Bill Anders.
Now, if you’re not gonna become an astronaut, and I never did, the next best thing is to befriend one. It’s true, and Bill was an Apollo 8 astronaut who along with Frank Borman and Jim Lovell were the first to orbit the moon in 1968. And he took along with him a camera and he took a photo and I know that every one of you has seen this photograph because it is the most iconic photo of the 20th century, Earthrise.
Now, as recounted to me by Bill, when he saw this, two things happened. First he said, “Jim, give me the camera quick! Color film, let’s go, come on!” The second thing he said was, “Wow, look at that. Wow, look at that.” Now, if you know these guys, they are the caricature of the right stuff right out of the movies. Cool, calm, collected in their DNA. Nothing phases them but this, this blew their minds. Frank said when we peered out of that little window into the depths and darkness of space, the only thing we saw with any color on it was the earth and it was at that moment that we understood just how fragile our planet is and the responsibility that we all have to protect it.
And he went on further to say that once we saw the earth, we lost all interest in the moon. They went to the moon to discover the earth, it’s true! And when this photo came back and went around the world on the cover of Time magazine, it created a moral imperative to care for creation, to care for the planet and for its people. And the health of the planet and the health of the people are inextricably linked. This fact was first identified by this same Dr. Ed Wilson, who we’re going to hear from later this evening, and his concept of biophilia, which essentially says that we as human beings have an innate affinity for other living things.
The natural world, it’s who we are. And this is what it looks like. These are some kids in a nature program in Olympic Park amongst the trees. But look at their faces, you see a sense of calm, even a sense of awe. And awe is an actual thing, I didn’t know that before. It’s a thing because Dr. Dacher Keltner right here at UC Berkeley is a social psychologist who studies the science of awe. And he finds that awe occurs not exclusively but often in nature and it’s what you feel when you’re in the presence of something greater than yourself. And when you’re experiencing awe, we are kinder, we are gentler, we are better versions of ourselves.
And there is also physiologic impacts. Stress hormones are reduced, blood pressure and heart rate is lowered and this is so profound that in 1982 the Japanese created a program called or Forest Bathing which was a public health exercise to get people out among the trees. But what happens when this linkage is severed, forgotten, or lost? We get change, climate change. Now warming of the earth is indisputable. And human impacts are clear. Greenhouse gases are at the highest level in human history, causing issues for both human and natural systems. Some of the impacts we’ve seen, even since 1950, have been the greatest that we’ve seen in decades and in other instances, the greatest we’ve seen in millennia.
The atmosphere and oceans are warming. Snow and ice is melting and sea levels are rising. Now carbon dioxide levels at the end of the last century, about 1900, were about 280 parts per million in the atmosphere. And they’ve raised now to the level of 400 parts per million with an attendant rise in global mean temperature. And although the global mean temperature of the earth’s surface has warmed by one degree, temperatures across the land have warmed even further by a degree and 1/2 which means that we can expect further heat related events like heat waves, drought, desertification, wildfires.
And also more heavy precipitation events. Oceans are absorbing carbon dioxide, becoming more acidic, our oceans are now 26% more acidic than they were in the Industrial Age. Sea ice is disappearing at a rate of 4% per decade and sea levels have risen almost eight inches in the last century, more than in the last two millennia. Now climate change is a force multiplier for our human impact on the planet. Biodiversity, the diversity within species, the diversity among species and among ecosystems, is declining at the fastest rate in history. Humans have impacted 75% of our land surfaces, 66% of our ocean area, and 85% of our wetlands. And although forest loss has slowed since 2000, the impact is not uniformly distributed because some of the greatest losses are occurring in our tropical and subtropical areas with the greatest biodiversity.
Coral, half of our coral, live coral, has been lost since the 1870s. And continues to be lost due to ocean acidification. And up to 25% of our animal and plant species can legitimately claim to be threatened with extinction. Now, the impacts of climate change on human health and wellbeing are numerous. They include direct impacts like fire and flood. The photo here of the fire is from a recent wildfire in Santa Rosa during which time both our Sutter Health and colleagues at Kaiser Permanente had to evacuate our hospitals. One of our Sutter Hospitals in Lake County has been evacuated three times due to wildfires. The photo below showing floods.
The International Organization on Migration estimates that by 2050, we will have between 25 and 200 million environmental refugees. And health impacts of climate change are mediated through natural systems as well, such as air quality and vectors. Air pollution kills seven million people a year, more than twice those who die from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. And vector-borne diseases like Zika virus have now expanded their geographical footprint because of warming. We are in a period of change, immense change. Climate change, and we have a choice. We can either go the path of fear and anxiety or we can open the door to a bright and more sustainable future. I for one advocate the latter. In a period of change and uncertainty, it is important that we all take personal responsibility. That we take the mantle of leadership to make sure that our actions are not just consistent with but are role models of caring for creation. The planet and its people. Margaret Meade said it best, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Thank you very much.
Paul Alivisatos: Thank you, Dr. Lockheart. It’s my pleasure now to welcome Dr. Walter Yates. He is professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and adjunct professor in the school of forestry and environment at Yale University. He is scientific chair of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and the lead scientist for the Half Earth Project Map. He led the science track at Half Earth Day today. Walter is director of the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, which links scientists, students and practitioners engaged in the environmental, biological, policy or health aspects and implications of global biodiversity change. He also leads the Map of Life, how cool is that? Which consolidates global biodiversity distribution data sources into a single asset to provide the best possible species range information and species list for any geographic area worldwide. Welcome, Walter!
Walter Yates: Thank you. Good evening. Many reasons to conserve, to carefully look after landscapes worldwide. We’ve heard just earlier how we humans have an innate connection, an innate pleasure that we’re getting obviously around being in these amazing landscapes. Some of the most amazing ones among them here in California. Many many reasons — cultural, spiritual values, more mundane carbon sequestration, recreation, as well as just the need to maintain and sustain the last wild places for future generations.
But I would argue that species are the absolute key in all of this. Now the critical elements underpinning the ecosystems that constitute these landscapes, they’re the nodes on this very intricate web of life that’s ultimately behind nature’s benefits to people. And actually in some of the most intriguing discussions today we were told and got a nod from the audience that this is not just about ourselves right now. It’s really for the future generations that we need to sustain biodiversity, that we need to ensure that future generations will have these benefits, that in some cases we are not even aware of at this point. Actually, in most cases.
Now, as populations decline worldwide and we read about it in the newspapers, North American Birds for example just recently, it’s a very dire situation and one that we need to be incredibly concerned about. But I would argue that nothing, nothing at all is more troubling than losing species for forever. Looking at these examples here, the one at the bottom, the oil bird, has been separated from it’s closing living relative for over 70 million years. It’s a key seed disperser in South America. Carrying seeds in a single night up to 200 kilometers. And it’s actually, if we were to lose that species altogether, we’d probably see a change in the structure of the forests there.
So, each one of these species serves a really fundamental role. How can we then put species into this landscape or landscape conservation equation? And this is where Ed Wilson’s pioneering work actually comes into play. Back in the ’60s, he pioneered the theory of island biogeography together with Robert MacArthur. And it offered an almost transformational principle to go from species to conservation planning in the geographic context.
Bear with me for a moment, this is how this started out. It’s simply from the observation that as you roam around the Caribbean and identify lizards in all these islands, you obviously realize that more species are found on larger islands and others then took that principle further and applied it to habitat fragments so islands of habitats arising through encroachment. And here again we find that smaller and smaller fragments hold fewer species. And you can flip this around and essentially make it a dynamic principle around habitat loss leading to species loss, species reduction. And it’s somewhere in the middle there that you could argue and you could think of these original equations and put them into the picture and say well, we really wouldn’t wanna go beyond that point there. Beyond say, we wouldn’t wanna lose more than 10% of species and that is what brings us to this half, that’s half the area lost.
And I’m saying this because this is, if you will, the guiding principle behind the Half Earth Project and what Ed is talking about so eloquently in his book, Half Earth. And that’s what’s bringing us together tonight. And science has moved quite a bit since the ’60s and we are now able to think about not just species richness and this aggregate number of species as a whole but we’re able to think about similar sort of principles species by species.
So what is that curve species by species? And how does land cover change and climate change ultimately affect their survival and what can we do against that? How can we sustain species going forward? For example through reserves or other conservation management. So this is where the really tricky science comes in. And that’s where we see our role to deliver the science and information to ensure that species are at least not unknowingly left behind. There’s no question there will have to be triage. We can’t save every species from extinction.
However, at least we wanna do it in an informed way. That’s where I see our work, the science work in the Half Earth Project and the people engaging around it, the scientific community that we’re engaging this conversation come into play. Deliver the science, the R and D if you will, for effective conservation decision making. And that’s where this species is coming in in a critical way, the California thrasher. I hope many of you had the chance to see this species. It’s not just an amazingly, it’s quite a character of a species if you see it in nature. It’s got this quite dominant beak and a very agile manner about it. It’s also a really important element of the chaparral communities around here in California. It’s an important node in that food web and it’s, well it’s an indicator of a healthy chaparral.
So I would encourage you to find it and think about it, not just as an important species but also as one that’s intrigued scientists such as Joseph Grinnell at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology here at Berkeley about 100 years ago and he came up with this principle of connecting species habitat associations or environmental associations with where they are then found on the map. And it was an absolutely empowering principle, I would say almost as much as island biogeography that’s now gaining new importance.
For example, through the availability of high-resolution remote sensing data. We have detailed maps of the planet. Not just static maps, dynamic maps that allow us to monitor change and we have an increasing amount of new data sources also for biodiversity. Citizen science observations, camera traps, GPS tracking data, so there’s an immense amount of data coming through that we can then use. And it’s the same way in which Grinnell thought about learning about species’ environmental needs. You can take this data, link it up to the remote sensing information.
Think about a multivariant niche that characterizes a species and then put that back into geographic space. And that’s what we’re doing increasingly at scale in Map of Life. We’re able to go from relatively limited information such as these green expert blobs are relatively limited and often biased, roadside bias we call that point data from citizen scientist observations for example to something that then integrates these pieces and gets us to something that actually has a spacial resolution that can be actionable on the ground. It’s this red, more detailed map you see in the background there and it’s integrating these two pieces of information and realizing that the experts aren’t always right and the points aren’t always where they should be.
And we’re now getting to something that can be a scientific basis for conservation decision making. And we’ve been able to scale this up at least in a coarse way to almost 40,000 species to identify in a comparable way the most important places for additional conservation action in the world. So these are not maps of richness, these are maps of importance in a complementarity context of particular places and actually California, you wouldn’t be surprised, shows up here as quite an important location.
And through the Half Earth Map, we are then able to put this in an engaging visual way online. I encourage you to check it out at the Half Earth website and we’re able to not just map the encroachment or protection in great detail but increasingly also the species that would be triggering a place as showing up as important and we can look at a whole range of species here that are of global significance. Which this reason of southern California holds globally, global stewardship for a whole range of species and start the conversation around them, for example the Herman’s kangaroo rat that still has a rather limited evidence base to actually drive forward particular conservation action.
And in California, we are in a really special place for that. An immense number of species, an immense portion of those species of endemic restricted to that place. And we had a wonderful conversation today around the biodiversity in California. Over 1,600 plant species restricted. Over dozens and dozens of mammals, birds, amphibians restricted to California. California holds the sole stewardship for these species. And then it holds partial stewardship with a lot of other species that it shares with Nevada or Arizona so that’s the global information, global context that we’re able to bring in through activities such as the Half Earth Global Mapping.
We talk about these cases today in our conservations with the California panel. And the data, the evidence base as well as the science came out as leading here for California unsurprisingly. We had important conversations around the importance of bringing people, social issues, working landscapes into this conversation as well as climate adaptive conversation approaches. It was almost a goosebump-inducing to then have people such as Wade Crawford and Chuck Bonham on the panel to reflect on some of these speeches that we heard from the scientists and give their response and their forward looking vision as to how California could go forward in practical conservation and again, California is a leading example for conservation policy in action. And actually holding almost a global responsibility in being able to carry this to other places, potentially in a Half Earth context. And there was the call for actionable scientific information of the sort that for example is done here at Berkeley so this again is not a richness map of the plants in California, it’s the places that are gaps at this point.
Thousands of species were analyzed and modeled in great detail in the way I was talking about earlier and these are the current conservation gaps and a tremendous amount of outstanding conservation already done in California. In some ways over half of California already conserved. However, there are important gaps. And here are just some of them and I will now finish on a really optimist and positive note because that one over here, and we have to, the very person in the audience today is for example now conserved, Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve. And with that, I’d like to thank you!
Paul Alivisatos: Thank you, Walter. Now the conversation everyone has been waiting for. It’s my pleasure to welcome Dr. Edward O. Wilson and Sally Jewell to the stage. Sally Jewell is a longtime friend and advocate for the environment who brings expertise to this topic from the business world, federal government, and non-governmental organizational leadership. She has previously served as U.S. Secretary of the Interior from 2013 to 2017 in the Obama Administration. During her tenure, she was recognized for using a science-based landscape level collaborative approach to natural resources management.
Her work included championing the importance of science and sharing data to better understand the Earth’s systems, encouraging investments for more sustainable use of water in the west, deepening relationships with indigenous communities, and long-term conservation of the nation’s most vulnerable and irreplaceable natural, cultural, and historic treasures. Sally Jewell previously served as president and CEO of REI, the $2.6 million member-owned cooperative dedicated to facilitating outdoor adventures. She has served as a regent of the University of Washington and distinguished fellow in the College of the Environment at the University of Washington. And she will know no rest, she currently serves as interim chief executive officer for the Nature Conservancy. Thank you Sally for all of the amazing work that you do and for leading the discussion this evening.
Now, it brings me great pleasure to introduce Edward Osborn Wilson, generally recognized as one of the leading scientists in the world. E.O. Wilson. E.O. Wilson is one of the foremost naturalists in both science and literature, a synthesizer of ideas with works stretching from pure biology across to the social sciences and humanities. He is acknowledged as the creator of two scientific disciplines, island biogeography and sociobiology. Three unifying concepts for science and the humanities jointly, biophilia, biodiversity studies, and conciliance. And one major technology advance in the study of global biodiversity, the Encyclopedia of Life.
E.O. Wilson has received more than 100 awards, including the US National Medal of Science, the Crawford Prize, which is the equivalent of Nobel for ecology, the International Prize for the Biology of Japan, two Pulitzer Prizes in Nonfiction, the Nonino and Sorono Prizes of Italy, and the Cosmos Prize of Japan. For his work in conservation, he has received National Geographic’s Hubbard Medal, the Gold Medal of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, and the Audobon Medal of the Audobon Society. He is currently Honorary Curator in Entomology and University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and Chairman of the EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Chairman of the Half Earth Council. Welcome Ed and Sally.
Sally Jewell: Well, thanks Provost for that too-long introduction of me but never long enough for the introduction of Dr. Wilson with what he’s done. So, Dr. Wilson, I just think about the nine decades that you have been examining the natural world. Beginning most likely as most of us do by eating some dirt as a baby. But I also think about the nine decades of human history and our evolution as a species that you’ve seen during that time. This seems like a little different time right now than what we have experienced. Is there something unique about our relationship as humans with the natural world at this time, in this moment in history and what can we learn from that?
E.O. Wilson: Please call me Ed.
Sally Jewell: All right.
E.O. Wilson: Or, given my origins in Alabama, Ey-ud.
Sally Jewell: Ey-ud, okay I got that down.
Okay, well you came in with the toughest question of all which is what are we doing wrong? We could enumerate it but I’d put it, as I think intuitively most sitting out here understand it already and that is that our technological advances, century after century, have led up to where we can do almost anything we want with the surface of the world anyway. Regardless of the consequence. And we’re learning the hard way, beginning with catastrophic beginning changes of the climate as brilliantly explained by Dr. Lockhart. And now to the elimination of a lot of the natural environment and the animals, plants, and probably some microbes too that has taken billions of years to evolve. And we’re just, we’ve arrived at a level and the huge population able to destroy the rest of the life on the planet and our will and unfortunately we haven’t yet learned restraint. And so the role of scientists like us, who study the environment and particularly the subject of biodiversity, it’s up to us to state clearly the measurements of the amounts of biodiversity left on Earth. The necessity of good parts of it to keep the whole environment intact and healthy, healthful for us as the dominant species. And then to proceed with some prudence.
So, when we met at one point when I was Secretary of the Interior, you talked about an area that was very special to you as a child which you would like to become in a Mobile Tensaw Delta National Park. When you think about that place that shaped your childhood, what is it about it that is special and how does that relate to the kind of areas that need to be protected when we think about Half Earth?
E.O. Wilson: Well, thank you for bringing that up. I’m a seventh-generation Mobilian and when I was a boy riding across the causeway of Mobile Bay on my bicycle. I visited the Mobile Tensaw Delta, called America’s Amazon by some journalist, frequently. And explored some parts of it as a teenager. I grew up with it and by direct exposure with some of the richest parts of America’s biodiversity inhabiting it, came to have a close feeling of close relationship to it. Then, later as I looked over the situation across the nation after Robert MacArthur and I had developed the theory of island biogeography, I recognized that we needed in biodiversity rich areas, California of course we’ve been emphasizing is another one that we needed to nurture them, protect them, and all of the biodiversity within them. Because a little bit of disturbance in an area like that can do a lot of damage.
Then I looked at the delta of the Mobile and Tensaw river. The great Alabama river system flows with a large part of its source out of Georgia diagonally across the state of Alabama and then down to empty into Mobile Bay. And where it empties, it’s created, it first divides, comes down and then it divides again to create two branches embracing the delta for close to 100 miles creating a natural area, almost subtropical in its climate with extraordinary richness of fauna and flora. And it occurred to me that this is a logical place for a national park, there was not, correct me if you know me to be in error. There is no national park for the environment anywhere on the Gulf Coast from Key West all the way around to the tip of Texas, none.
And this is where, for the Northern Hemisphere, this is one of the richest places in the world and therefore I got busy with others in the Mobile area and we sat getting all the information we needed to present to you, ma’am. Although unfortunately because of political events, we didn’t have time to give it to you. But any rate, it was a committee in Mobile. Are prepared to take this delta which is the second largest in North America, and turn that whole delta into a park that contains one of the largest number of bird species in North America. Which contains almost well over 300 species of freshwater fish and the largest number of crayfish and mollusks and the snails, aquatic in nature. An immense array of amphibians and I saved it for last, 32 species of snakes. Perfect.
Of course, that appeals to me. But at any rate this is a biologically rich part of North America that deserves to be saved and made easily available for people from around the world to visit as they wish. Forgive the length of my speech …
Sally Jewell: I think it’s wonderful … So I think some of the first material that I read that you wrote was many decades ago and it was all about ants, so I’m just curious what we humans might be able to learn from ants as we think about how we shape a different future than the track that we’re on?
E.O. Wilson: Almost nothing. I have to tell you the truth about ants which I’ve come to love because I just got the opportunity to study them when I was just a boy. Actually, when I was 13 years old I was trying to find all the different species of ants that existed in Mobile, it was a Scout project. And I found this mound of ants teeming with several hundred thousand stinging ants and to make a long story short I went on to discover that this was the imported fire ant. The first colony, it or its progenitors were brought up by accident on the shipping that comes in from South America to Mobile. This ant was a serious pest, remains one. Starting to spread out of the city of Mobile into the farmland, Florida, Mississippi. And quickly became a major pest of agriculture, of wildlife, and in fact even of many agricultural crops. And was alarmed, the Department of Agriculture set out to do the, to maybe eliminate the menace with force majeur. I don’t know if you remember that decade in the ’50s when we were thinking about the positive uses of atomic weapons.
Sally Jewell: I was eating dirt in the ’50s but that’s okay.
E.O. Wilson: The Atomic Energy Commission said, “Well why don’t we do something positive?” Because we’re stuck with this huge atomic stockpile that we have, one suggest was to create another harbor in Alaska. Another suggestion was to cut the needed canal across whatever Central American country could be bullied into accepting. The idea would be to plant a row of low-yield atomic weapons across this country. It would be Panama or Nicaragua. Then, of course, with the agreement of the people. Yeah, at any rate. So at the given moment the president of the two countries would push a red button and it would go boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And the waters of the Pacific would flow into the waters of the Caribbean. Yes it was, it turns out that they were considerably higher.
I was on as a young member, I was on the National Academy of Sciences Committee to investigate the possible consequences of another canal like that that doesn’t have water. And what we had to report killed that idea right there. But anyway we were talking about American triumphalism. I think that would be a good period. We were gonna do great things because we had the atomic power to do it. And at any rate, this would include spraying the range of the imported fire ant because it had reached already across most of the Southeastern United States. Spray it with pesticides, great idea. We’d just get rid of all the fire ants in one shot. A moonshot, we didn’t think much of, the progenitors of this idea didn’t think much about the possibility that it might kill off a large amount of the wildlife and be a menace to human health too.
But Rachel Carson did. And Rachel Carson had heard of me as someone who I wish had lived longer than she did. At any rate, she had heard of me as an expert on fire ants, so I was at Harvard then and she wrote me and said she’d like to come down and talk with me and so on about it because she was gonna write a book. And she couldn’t make it, she wrote me a little later that she’d grown ill and then I did one of the worst things in my entire life. I failed to ride up to meet her, so I never met her personally but I did give her advice over the phone and mail and I helped her find the information she needed to know of what would happen if you eliminated a large number or fraction of the wildlife, including insects, by any means whatever. And I’ve been proud all my life since of being noted by her biographer. That this was several years ago that I was still only one of two people who worked directly with Rachel Carson. I’m very proud of that. I also had a chance to personally meet Bear Bryant of the Alabama Crimson Tide. But I said to the Dean who approached me and said the Bear is now in his office and I’ll introduce you to him if you’d like. And I said sorry I’ve gotta catch a plane.
Sally Jewell: It’s hard to picture this concept of blowing up a pathway between the Pacific and the Caribbean but when we think now about what are the drivers of biodiversity loss like the burning fires we see in the Amazon or the deforestation in Borneo, so often those things are driven by human activities like agriculture or extractive industries or infrastructure that bisects and impacts the connectivity of ecosystems, urbanization and so on. How do you think we should be reshaping our policies and our practices to achieve much more sensible land protections? Where would you start?
E.O. Wilson: The presidents of our country and of Brazil are in agreement on one thing which is vast forests that we own and other natural habitats should be utilized, harvested, whatever it takes, to increase the wealth of the citizenry. Which means of course usually a walled section of wealthier people among the citizenry. And their reasoning pits the million year old heritage of both countries against immediate, purely economically derived and reasoned increase of wealth. And it’s a terrible distinction to make or lean toward the more immediate wealth of people. In the case of Brazil, the situation is this. I don’t wanna get long-winded about this, but I thought folks here might be interested in this.
What’s happening is that more and more of the Amazon forest, one of the greatest in the world, one of the Big Three, as they’re called. The Siberian, of which 60% has been cut over, the Canadian Boreal Forest of which only 15% has been cut over, and the great Amazon of which unfortunately 40% has now been cut over and the government and financial interests, some of them, in Brazil are hell-bent to increase that in order to get more immediate wealth. Here’s how it happens and it’s difficult to stop.
First, the farmer or cattle rancher goes to the Amazon and finds that the government has made it possible for them to acquire at a reasonably low price a substantial section of the Amazon forest. Then they go in and they find that the very considerable minerals, nutrient minerals and other nutrients of the forests are locked up in all these big trees. In the arboretal vegetation, trees and first story bushes. And so they need to get it out so that they can make use of it. And the way you do that is you cut it, cut it all and you let it all fall. And you wait a year and it dries out. Now it can be burned, and when it burns, the ashes contain the nutrients that you’ve been trying to get to the rather barren soil and leaf litter that characterize tropical rainforest. And the nutrients then are added underneath the burned out forest remains.
And for two or three years, the farmers, for example gets a fine yield. But then having used up the nutrients that had been put from the trees into the soil, the production of the farmer’s land drops precipitously. He has to go onto the next. That’s what’s happening in Brazil. And then when you add to that the fact that many of these fires spread into the drier portions of surrounding forests, you have what amounts to an ecological tragedy.
Sally Jewell: That’s sobering.
E.O. Wilson: So how to stop it? The use of common sense and a sufficient amount of vocal demonstrators. When I came here for my search for my first series of lectures 45 years ago, I actually had the experience of watching one of the last University of California, Berkeley, demonstrations this was against the war, this was against a lot of things. So I would sit and watch that and I thought maybe this was a particularly talented and potent group generally to make those who would love the environment and wanna save it from a disaster might do something. But I wouldn’t be, have the poor judgment as just a visitor again to make any such suggestion.
Sally Jewell: Well, I will say that I think there’s a very significant role to be played by the agricultural sector. By agribusinesses which the Nature Conservancy is doing some work with on what crops to grow, how to put in effective rotations, how to work on soil health so that carbon is sequestered in the soils and you can provide an economic basis for farmers in the Amazon and elsewhere to have a healthy living without destroying the rainforest. Because I think if you don’t align the economic interests with the environmental interests, we’re not gonna make progress. And I think that’s certainly something that we’ve woken up to.
E.O. Wilson: That’s completely right. I belong to a committee that Harvard initiated the creation of along with Brazilian scientists and conservationists and we have called for and we’re trying to develop to make reasonable in concept to achieve exactly what you just said. This is so typical of great political or economic or in this case environmental problems. We really should treat it as a problem to be solved and then use the best science and technology we can to solve that problem. And there are ways of managing forests that great tropical forests like this one without destroying it and eliminating the huge fauna and flora that’s in it. And we should use our best knowledge and the expertise we have available to go down and solve that as a problem.
Sally Jewell: Yeah I think that we honored the Dangermans earlier, they were recognized the mapping tools that we now have through companies like Esri and the sort of maps that we saw earlier that Half Earth is working on. Knowledge is power and we have an opportunity to have much better knowledge and do thoughtful development in the right ways and in the right places and avoid those places that are more critical.
So, as you think about half the Earth, which is, it’s something people can visualize. It’s easier to say than it is to do. Of course, all lands and waters aren’t equally important and we learned that from Walter a little bit earlier. How would you say we need to start? What parts of this planet are the most critical and how do we go about building awareness and support for their protection?
E.O. Wilson: I think you’ve got an indication, the audience here to a certain extent, from the talk that’s given by Dr. Yates who is working with us. Well, he’s guiding the effort actually. And we have also the support and the good advice of the leading commercial maker and scientific research and map making, Jack Dejumong. To develop mapping techniques based on as complete a knowledge as we can get of the fauna and the flora, where the species are, the condition they’re in, the condition of the environment that they’re going in, and put all that together and map it in such a way as to hit or to enclose the hot spots. These are those areas in which you have the largest number of generally overall endangered species.
And then to piece together the area, in some cases that’ll be gerrymandering the best areas, if I might use that word in a more wholesome way, is to take these slivers and spots and so on and fit them together so that we get the needed half or fraudulent half that also has the maximum diversity of plant and animal species so that’s what we’re doing as science and that brings us actually to what’s now uprising as the rebirth of an old discipline that has now new strength and power. And that’s taxonomy, the discovery and mapping of species. Finding out where they are and what their relationship is and then increasingly begin to do the natural history of each one of those species.
That goes back to Linnaeus in 1735 who set out to map, discover, name and map every species of organism on Earth. And he made something of a very bold and courageous beginning and we’ve been working at it ever since but with the rise of the many branches of modern biology, this has received special strength from the technology that it brings. Taxonomy, just classification of organisms, has seemed to fade away into the past. Now we need to revive it. And this is what I call the Linnaean Renaissance. We have to resume the exploration of the world. Without going on too long I hope, let me just point out number one that we estimate that there are about 10 million species of plants and animals on the planet. These are what we call the high, the eukaryotic organisms, the species of eukaryotic organisms about 10 million.
And of those, we have some knowledge and we’ve named about two million. We are only eight, we’re only 20% on the way to mapping the plant and animal species and other eukaryotic organisms on this planet, it’s almost that we’re living on a little-known planet and we now need to resume this in order to find out the best ways and do the most sophisticated mapping to get the most out of setting aside new reserves all around the world. So I would like to see that come back. We need, and I’m happy to talk to our future scientists out there. Those going into the biology who might be looking around for the best, most productive and important thing to do. We need experts on organisms. You select them and then become the world authority on them and then lead the effort to take that group, whatever you’ve chosen, scorpions, mayflies, marsupial mammals …
Sally Jewell: Snakes!
E.O. Wilson: Whatever it is. And set out to do what you can do to become the world authority on them and undertake among your activities. The discovery and the naming of all the remaining previously undiscovered species and set it ready for this great effort to save the whole in one moonshot.
Sally Jewell: Well, I’m gonna ask you one more question then we’ll throw it open to questions from the audience. We have heard, and this very much in the theme of what you just said, we’ve heard from many young people in no uncertain terms that we’re leaving them with an environmental mess. Greta Thunberg being the most vocal and visible at Climate Week just last week. But I know we need more biologists to do the work you described but the science around climate change is abundantly clear and yet there are many people particularly in this country that are not convinced that it’s real. We come in all shapes and sizes and skillsets. Beyond science, what skillsets can human beings bring to the table to accelerate our awareness of what’s going on and our inspiration to take action?
E.O. Wilson: That’s the big question of the decade isn’t it?
Well, you say suggest one, you can say, maybe a little flippant by saying people will become convinced when they have to wade to get to their summer homes. And the signs of it are just going to keep getting more and more frequent and worse and worse but at the same time, we can adapt to the changes according to the course they’re taking. And develop new props, new industries, new ways of life. And we haven’t given that enough time, enough effort to think through as to how we can adapt to those parts that are going to be inevitable. And then of course, we’ve seen the moves clearly laid out of what kind of changes we can and must make in cleaning out the atmosphere. A lot of instruments, a lot of our vehicles. By all the ways in which we have inevitably polluted the environment to make the global warming more ready.
I am proud to be here with, here in California we’ve pioneered it and got to meet again your ex-governor who started all of this here. California is a leader and I think we should become much more animated, determined, and hopeful about taking the big changes in our ways of life there to put a stop to climate warming but then, but then … You’d better be ready for crisis number two. And that’s, I predict, the shortage of fresh water. It’s happening worldwide. We’ve got major migrations attempted and up from the Sahel in North Africa into Europe and it’s a good part of the reason why we’re getting floods of people coming up from Central America. Climate change is changing, is reducing the capacity of people in a large number of the earth’s surface to have the kind of normal life based on agriculture and water-based industries, which they deserve to have.
And then when we solve that problem comes number three. Crisis number three and that is the collapse of ecosystems through the mass extinction of species. We have now increased the extinction rate between 100 and 1,000 times over what it was before the coming of humanity. And the number of species are going to continue to go down or retreat into rarity enough so that we’re gonna start seeing not just the destruction of the ecosystems of the world which is occurring say in Brazil and Indonesia resulting in the extinction of species but it’s going to become reciprocating as enough species are taken out then we’re going to see the total collapse of ecosystems. Incidentally, since I know I’m talking to a student, a good part which is student audience here.
On those of you who are thinking about science, if I haven’t convinced you about going on to become a world expert in a particular group of organisms to take part in the exploration of the world of foreign flora as a part of keeping the earth’s natural environment whole and healthy, let me suggest something else. And that is, we need to build a science. We haven’t really even got it started of ecosystems. We know that our ecosystems, which are really what we try to protect, not just single species but ensembles of species that have come together and have reached stability, sometimes over thousands, or even in some places, millions of years because the right species coming together have formed ecosystems that equilibrate. And we don’t know, really how equilibration comes about.
We need an ecosystems science. And there is going to be one created. It should be, has to be, in the immediate future. So since I’m in a preacher’s mood, I will say to you, please consider if you wanna go into science, please consider going into the coming development of a new biological science. One of the next big things which is ecosystems studies. We want to know how they are formed. MacArthur and I made some contribution on that in island biogeography. But then as they form, how do they grow and how do they change? What are the main principles? What happens to them as they are evolving, these ecosystems, this forest whether it’s on an island here, this lake on that peninsula there and so on and as they’re evolving their ecosystems, their coral reefs, their rainforest. What happens when certain species go extinct, which is what’s happening all the time? Or when you get invasive species, which are occurring all the time? What happens when something like a Gypsy moth or the imported fire ant arrives? What can we expect, how bad of a problem is it gonna be creating, what actions should we take? So it’s a practical problem, okay?
And then, this is what I actually was personally invited to address at four different conferences, organized by business CEOs during the last year to speak to. They wanted to know how ecosystems equilibrate and form solid, well-functioning units because they thought maybe what nature has achieved might result in principles they could achieve. Well, I couldn’t give much of an answer because did we have the science? We need to make the science.
In other words, after we’ve learned, we know what’s in the ecosystems, after we know what the early stages of creating them are, after we’ve begun to figure out the complex system by which species by species interact. After that, then we can say, “Here is how ecosystems come to a maturity that can last for thousands and hundreds of thousands of years.” That’s going to be one of the big things of coming biology in this century.
Paul Alivisatos: Thank you. Thank you Ed and Sally for that really inspiring discussion and thank you for laying out a whole agenda that somebody who’s just at the beginning of thinking about what they might do in this world, how they could approach the systems that you’ve talked about and it’s very inspiring.
Throughout much of Half Earth Day, we have already collected questions and meanwhile you have already given us more questions from the audience just while this discussion has been going on. So we have a system here, if you have, we’ll hope to get to as many of these as we can. If you have additional questions you can take them from your index cards and give them to an usher who will be bringing them up to me and I will bring them in turn to Sally who will then ask them of Ed. So we’ve got a system going here.
Sally Jewell: While you’re bringing those up, I just wanna say that with my bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering that anybody, no matter what your background, can have an impact on creating the kind of world that we wanna see.
E.O. Wilson: Sure, absolutely.
Sally Jewell: Anybody. And in fact, while Rachel Carson was a biologist it was her writing that inspired the world. Bill Ruckelshaus, first ever head of the EPA was a lawyer and one of my heroes. And for those of you that haven’t done your history, the Environmental Protection Agency was created by the Republican administration under Richard Nixon and it was Rachel Carson really who inspired that action that brought us the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and so much more. Following on the footsteps of the great state of California and its leadership. So I didn’t appreciate the role of lawyers until I worked in government. And the role of people in public service that sign up for this and the role of artists who capture the hearts, the heads are here. Yeah you can clap for that, we need to clap for the artists and the communicators! It takes all of us.
All right, so there are a lot of questions here. I will pick one and we’ve got about close to 20 minutes. So, we’ll see how many of these we can get through. How do you expect climate change to impact the Half Earth plan to preserve biodiversity? Will saving habitat matter in the face of climate catastrophe?
E.O. Wilson: Yeah it will. Because the climate changing would have to be far more than even the scariest scenarios allow. And we’re not going to have say, a coniferous boreal forest. We’re not going to have major grasslands in Australia and so on change radically just by the climate change alone. Climate change is certainly gonna do a lot of damage. It’s gonna result in the extinction of species and most of those systems and it’s certainly gonna cause us as a species grief. I think most people understand now that’s going to happen. But I don’t think just as a technical matter, and this is one of those things we need to study ecosystems in order to predict more confidently. I don’t think that we’re going to have climate change altering, at least not in the next few decades, the major more expansive ecosystems and habitat types that are on the Earth today. That may be too optimistic but that’s …
Sally Jewell: We have to be optimistic. All right, so you’ve studied ants. This may not be your area of expertise, but what is it about humans, our brains or our emotions, that has us unable to realize what we are doing to the earth to cause it to be in peril and crisis?
E.O. Wilson: Why have we remained so destructive? I think it’s because, well I’ve written extensively on this and not everyone who’s read the arguments I’ve made would agree, although I’ve gotten more professional scholarly agreement than I expected. And that is that the way we evolved, primarily in Africa before the breakout, first of Homo erectus and then Homo sapiens precursors and the Neanderthal precursor, the way we evolved primarily in Africa involves a pretty aggressive interaction between tribes. And also pretty severe impact on the environment. And it resulted in success of our prehuman ancestors to the extent that we tended to remain favorable toward impulses of group competition and of clever and constantly expanding and improving ways to convert the environment to our immediate needs of survival and reproduction. In other words we evolved that way. We have instincts.
Sally Jewell: So there’s another question here about indigenous communities and there’s still a substantial part of our Earth that is stewarded by its original inhabitants who seem to have done a better job than the rest of us in terms of living in harmony with nature. What can we learn from those communities and how might they be allies in creating the kinds of biodiversity that we need?
E.O. Wilson: First, certainly indigenous people come up as an early concern over the Half Earth strategy of saving biodiversity. And I don’t see that as a fatal problem. In fact I see it the other way. Because where the richest environments are, both cultural marine areas and rainforest and productive savannas and the like, the people who have lived there in many cases for thousands of years. The tropical rainforest areas have been occupied for into the 10s of thousands of years for example. The people have adapted, created lasting means of living in those environments. To come to depend upon the stability and continuing yield from those environments. And I doubt if we will ever see any reason to want to move them out of there. Quite the opposite, they are part of the ecosystems that are there. Now I’m not too, if that’s the import of that question.
Sally Jewell: I think, yeah, the implication was they’re doing a good job how do we support their …
E.O. Wilson: They’re already doing a good job, why should we consider them as part of the problem.
Sally Jewell: They’re part of the solution I think it’s very clear. Okay, a Half Earth question, how much progress has been made so far on the Half Earth Project and what obstacles get in the way?
E.O. Wilson: The progress that has been made most conspicuously has been through national parks and reserve areas created by countries. And right during the visit here by me, my colleagues, some of my friends, we have been hearing more and more and I hope that you listening will look into this yourself as a premier example of the right way to go. And that is, in Mozambique, a country that was torn when it finally liberated itself from Portugal and then had from 1979 to 1992 a horribly destructive civil war. The natural environments were badly damaged and the park, the National Park at Gorongosa, south central Mozambique was devastated. Virtually all the larger animals were killed for meat and the park was badly damaged.
But it is now fully restored. And in being fully restored has begun to bring more and more people into the country. As tourists and in terms also of helping build up businesses and also it’s resulted in dramatic increase in educational opportunities of the people in and around the Gorongosa Park and a better standard of living and a national pride that grows every year for that. Mozambique is a very liberal country now and growing rapidly in economic and political and social evolution because of the park system.
Sally Jewell: Okay, I just got a whole bunch, batch of new questions. Without any more time, the time didn’t come with the questions.
E.O. Wilson: Well give ’em to me when you’re finished and I’ll write another book.
Sally Wilson: There you go. I hope you’re working on that anyway. How to we incorporate connectivity in the Half Earth vision and project?
E.O. Wilson: Oh yes, this is, when you have a lot of natural areas or small parks already made of the kind that you most need to save the faunas and floras, in many cases you have an opportunity to connect them. For a long time in the studies of ecology and projection and theory on biogeography, there was a dispute which says, “Oh, you don’t want to connect them.” One side says, “Oh, you don’t want to connect them because if you did then you’re going to have a destructive species which is just being managed by this one going over and devastating that one and so on.”
Well, it turns out though that the evidence is the other way. If you can have a corridor that allows a pretty good flow back and forth of plants and animals, that improves the stability of both of the smaller reserves to the extent that you can also consider them a single park. So, that is a very important step forward. And there is in fact a bill before Congress right now to take all those federally owned areas that are not crucial for some other function that connect or could be extended a bit to connect the smaller parks in the United States and increase then the amount of conservation potential for all plants and animals in both of these parks. And so, that is what is happening at the present time is there is more and more research going on, there are books appearing showing the best way to do this. And I hope that the bill in Congress will pass to accelerate that.
Sally Jewell: Great. Okay, I’m now in the process of bundling questions because I’ve got too many. But there’s several here on the theme of how we engage young people, how we inspire young people, how do we work with them. And they range from how do you introduce the concepts of Half Earth into the fourth grade curriculum, how do you inspire people, especially young people to save the planet and there’s a powerful youth voice that has a lot of knowledge and ideas, how will you work with them?
E.O. Wilson: Okay. I shouldn’t have to work with you. I think you can see that, you see in it a great future for yourself. For you going into general science, you have an area of inquiry added in which you can do highly productive, original research and for everybody else, what you will have as a result of following Half Earth procedures, enlarging parks, making corridors, connecting them with parks, protecting the plant and animals in them as a matter of course. Utilizing creative geography, all these things should be attractive to you. To those of us, to those of you who are looking for areas where they can be part of a growing and very productive science, and for everyone for a better quality of life.
So I don’t think any of the arguments I make, well I just made it. That’s my argument.
Sally Jewell: Well it’s kinda related here. Thank you for the advice for young scientists like myself. Can we save the natural world within the structure of capitalism? And if so what are the best strategies to do so?
E.O. Wilson: The conferences, there were three of them that I went to, and contributed to in the last year had this, they had this as an opening assumption: That not only could they learn, they thought, they hoped, and I think they’re right, principles of compatibility of operations within the organization as within an ecosystem, based on principles that are not yet fully clear but they’re there they believe, I believe. But also that they have discovered and it’s now pretty solidly established that companies that are green, including especially companies that are making products and are affecting the environment in those cases that’s where what they are doing improves the environment by one means or another. By the product they make, by the measures they take to actually improve the quality of the environment as the policy of the corporation.
In the case of marketing, I’ve consistently, oh and giving more power to the stakeholders. Take a little bit away, they talked about, at these conferences they’ve talked about taking something away from shareholders and give it to the stakeholders, the employees, the people who own the land that they use and so on. In all cases studied for any length, it turns out that when you do that, when you develop an amity with your potential customers and with the people especially living in the area, your profits go up. You might think that it was gonna be the opposite. We’re gonna sacrifice some of our productivity or some of our profit by doing the right thing. You thought, “Maybe it’s the price you have to pay.” But in fact it’s consistently the opposite.
Sally Jewell: Well, I wanna add to your answer, if I may, by saying that I have seen as a government official and as a business person most of my life that when you align the interests of business with the interests of the environment, things move and I’ll use an example. And this is actually one that even uses the Nature Conservancy, my current employer. With the help of the state of California and the federal government and local entities and the Nature Conservancy and using Esri’s incredible products and mapping tools, California said we need renewable energy. We mapped out the Mojave desert in California. Incredibly rich biodiversity including critical habitat now and if species are brought back. We identified areas that made sense for renewable energy and areas that should never be developed.
And then we said, “we” meaning Department of Interior and BLM specifically, if you develop in those areas we have done the environmental work, you’ll have your permit within 90 days. So market created by state of California renewable energy requirements, purchase power supply contracts created because of that, preclearing the environmental and all the other conflicts by driving the development into the area that was not in conflict. And all of a sudden you have renewable energy plans in California that are off to the races. So, we haven’t yet figured out how to move away from capitalism, but the answer, I think, is how you harness it in service to the planet instead of harnessing it in a way that destroys the planet. And I’ve seen it happen.
This is a question about how does Half Earth communicate with other countries and what other international and national agencies, what can they learn from this communication? How do you get the whole planet on board, in other words?
E.O. Wilson: The Half Earth idea, starting with its first consideration at the 2016 conference run by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Honolulu, the idea has swept the conservation world. It’s simply accepted as far as I can see by virtually every conservation organization as a good idea to try out, to develop. And I believe that we’ve had enough setbacks, we’ve had enough heartbreaks to want to try something else. And it has the right sound to it too. If we don’t have to be constantly checking and holding, taking the pulse of every possible endangered species and so on in order to keep the whole operation productive, we wanna get past that, we’d like to get a remedy that once applied consistently shows that it has the result hoped for. And so I think that it has been successful. It’s continuing to be successful now.
Sally Jewell: Great, so climate change and biodiversity loss and so on do not impact all portions of the population equally. So what’s the best course of action to help those currently affected and most devastated by climate change in developing countries?
E.O. Wilson: Well, as the the Gorongosa in Mozambique example shows, usually I believe that it’s going to prove by what’s already shown that when done intelligently it can actually improve the income, the stability of the environment, reducing costs, higher costs necessitated by the ordinary utilization of local labor and modification of the environment. That example I think is gonna prove to be very common if not universal. I think we should just continue to try that. To find out, it’s gonna be very experimental. I’m confident that this is, that Half Earth and reserves and integrating the welfare of local people. These areas too that are being set aside, I think as the question indicates or implies, they’re gonna be already rather poor with few opportunities. And again the Gorongosa example shows that it can change that radically.
Sally Jewell: Great, I would say that one of the interesting examples that we have within the Nature Conservancy right now is around sustainable fisheries. And if you look at some of these Pacific Island nations that are impacted by unsustainable fisheries and by climate change and sea level rise, they are coming on board in a significant way. Recognizing that if they protect the apex species and keep track of their catch and have a sustainable fishery that they’ll have jobs for life.
E.O. Wilson: I wanna tell you an example. One of my favorite examples from life at Gorongosa when I was there. There was a woman who managed our laundry. And she was so good and so dependable and just such a good employee that Greg Carr, who runs the park, put her in charge of all the laundry operations in Gorongosa Park and she had an increase, a substantial increase in salary. So, the first thing she did is go out and buy a second husband. [laughter]
Sally Jewell: I’m not gonna touch that with a 10-foot pole. Before you jump in, Paul, to wrap this up, I just have one question I’m gonna answer which is what advice would you have for scientists interested in public policy careers? And I will say that we are losing incredible scientists in public policy careers and we need to replace them soon and the application process at least for the federal government takes a while so go ahead and put your application in now and maybe it’ll be a little easier environment in the future. But there is nothing I have done that’s more valuable or has more impact than serving in public service. So I encourage scientists, if that is your inclination, to go for it, thanks. Paul.
Paul Alivisatos: That was really, thank you so much for that. And thank you both for this conversation. It has really been quite wonderful. Ed, perhaps you have a closing remark for our community. Is there something you’d like to share as a final, parting remark for your ideas for Half Earth Day and what the people here should be thinking about?
E.O.Wilson: Okay, I think, I’m not sure they’re words of wisdom. But I would say that the success of the Half Earth proposal which was based on pure science of the relationship of area and species diversity, should encourage you, those of you who are coming into science and want to be creative as a branch of science. And this branch of science is wide open for work at every level. Should recognize that innovations like this can have a dramatic positive result and they will be part of the biological sciences in saving the biodiversity and conservation. And probably other important procedures, policies, and techniques for the improvement of society generally so I’ll just add that to your very good advice about considering government service. To go into science with the confidence that there are fields, and ecology is one of them, and ecosystem studies within it and so on, that are wide open for big advances in understanding new experiments, ideas, and applications.
Paul Alivisatos: Thank you Sally, thank you Ed. Let’s each go out and do our part to try to make Half Earth real. Good evening.