E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth

I would like to someday say I have read most of Edward O. Wilson’s works, I have only read a handful so far. He is not only incredibly prolific as a scientist and author, but also a truly inspiring component of my belief system and what I consider to be the necessary characteristics of a successful scientist. His synthesis of social science and biology, and integration of island biogeography into many of his works aligns directly with my own practice as a student of Physical Geography with a heavy emphasis on Human Geography during my undergraduate work. Wilson’s ideas on secular humanism and the idea of a provisional deist have generated a pathway that allows me to integrate a spiritual practice into my somewhat uneven reliance on humanist scientific worldview. I think it goes without saying, but I am a big fan of E.O.’s.

In Half-Earth, Edward O. Wilson discusses the need for humanity to set aside half of the earth’s terrestrial and marine territory as as a natural preserve. He integrates to major concepts into this thesis: Island Biogeography and Patch Dynamics, and an understanding of Biodiversity through Natural History. The book begins through a discussion of biodiversity through a natural history perspective. The richness of species, and how little we have actually categorized and documented as well as the current and future impacts of the extinction event scientists are documenting currently, are discussed. E.O. calls our current epoch not the Anthropocene, but rather the Eremozoic, or Age of Loneliness.  He provides evidence for these claims, and provides examples of the tenuous existence that many species, genera, and even whole families have for existence.

Wilson moves on from this explanation of biodiversity and the role humans are playing in its planet wide collapse to his suggested solution. The idea of a half-earth preserve arises from our understanding of insular biogeography and patch dynamics in ecology. Scientists can predict the biodiversity of habitat “islands” (whether actual islands or islands of natural habitat in a constructed environment) based on the size of the habitat space and its distance from other regions of habitat. Based on this understanding Wilson states that in order to maintain the current state of biodiversity on our planet, we must set half the planet aside for nature.

As a classroom tool, these concepts integrate directly into the Living Environment curriculum as well as any study into Environmental Science. Especially important is Wilson’s succinct and clear explanation of the impact humanity is having on biodiversity and how scientists actually determine species richness hypothesis for an unknown number of species. Wilson’s compelling argument for not only the setting aside of habitat, but large tracts of contiguous and connected habitat, will also be beneficial. I can imagine students reading segments of the work, or the entire book being used as a “textbook” for an environmental science class. I would definitely recommend this piece for anyone interested in natural history or environmental science. It reads often like other natural histories, so a preference for these types of works would benefit the reader.

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