Half Earth: E.O. Wilson Interview

Frank Graff talks with author and biologist E.O. Wilson about his plan to help save the planet.

Author and biologist E.O. Wilson has a foundation at Duke and has written a plan to set aside one-half of the Earth's surface to help save the planet. Frank Graff talks with him about his idea, and both the support and criticism it has drawn. Read the interview below.

E.O. Wilson: If we knew how much land and sea was needed to save most of the species, and then we just asked the world to donate that to a reserve, we’d save the world with one giant step. In other words, instead of just a process of gradually getting better, we take one giant step and then we can all rest.

Frank Graff:  If you’re saying half the earth, how much is saved? How much is protected?

Wilson: If you can save half of the natural areas of the world, where the areas of biodiversity are, then you’d save 85 percent of the species. 

Graff: Why did you choose the half figure?

Wilson: Because it’s doable. And that’s what my book “Half Earth” shows. If that’s what we choose to do we can set aside that amount. People don’t have to leave, they don’t have to give up their property rights but we expect in those reserves not to have agriculture, not to have forests cut down, or river heads polluted or industries come in. That’s not that hard to do. Half is something people can remember. Eighty-five percent of biodiversity saved is doable and then adding other measures, which I talk about in this book. And then we save Mother Nature and we save biodiversity. 

Graff: So, if we save biodiversity, can you make the case that we save us?

Wilson: Yes! We’ve gotten used to, as Mr. Gore calls it, the inconvenient truth that we’re going to burn up the globe and the people with it unless we stop. That’s solid science. We know how to reverse global warming and we darn well better learn how to stop species extinction. Because it’s getting faster and faster. It could runaway. It has all sorts of unpleasant consequences for humanity if we let too much of it disappear. Actually, the whole world would unravel.

We need all those species to hold together and regenerate the soil. They provide the very atmosphere we breathe and we need them sustained. 

We need all the diversity that’s taken 3.5 billion years to create by evolution. We’re not going to duplicate that with anything we can create ourselves. We don’t even understand how it works. It took 3.5 billion years to create.

It’s very hard to persuade a political leader in this country, particularly during these turbulent times, to protect piece by piece biodiversity, particularly biological species.

Saying to the political leader and his voters, “OK, we want to save this. We need a park here, we need to pay special attention to this endangered species here. And we want money for this one and money for that one. And we want money here for you folks in Oregon who want to see those big trees preserved.”

That’s not going to work very well. But if we say, “Help us put together half the land for reserves and these are places where you’re going to take your family. These are going to be places where you’re really going to enjoy nature all around the world. And here is exactly how we’ll do it.”

Nobody, no serious scholar, has spoken out against this as not doable or incorrectly reasoned. I spoke with the United Nations, who are environmental leaders, and they love it. 

Because it’s a goal. It’s not just a process that we’ll eventually get to. 

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