In a recent Smithsonian article, renowned biologist E.O. Wilson says mankind is perpetrating a “biological holocaust” on the other 10 million species on the planet.
He suggests giving half of it back to them.
Wilson’s solution may be radical, but his science is not. Stuart Pimm, a biologist at Duke University, recently calculated that flora and fauna are disappearing one-thousand times faster than they did before the rise of humans over 60,000 years ago. His report on the subject was published in May in the journal Science.
“We are on the verge of the sixth extinction,” he told the Huffington Post, alluding to the previous five mass extinctions in Earth’s history.
Mankind is undoubtedly the reason. Pollution, deforestation, pesticides, habitat encroachment, overfishing, poaching and climate change are all factors contributing to the reduction in wild species. But even in protected areas, mammals, birds, plants and invertebrates are disappearing. Dr. Wilson and ecologist Robert H. MacArthur formulated the theory of island biogeography to explain how confined landscapes can gradually lose species.
Today the United States preserves 4 percent of its landmass (or almost 110 million acres) in 200,000 protected areas – 5,000 of which are national parks. Yet Wilson says this is not enough. Without long stretches of undisturbed wilderness, he claims, species are destined to die out.
“Long landscapes” such as the Yellowstone-to-Yukon initiative will allow animals to migrate north as the global climate warms. East-west corridors would allow creatures to immigrate from the drought-stricken west to areas with more rain. “I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming,” he told Smithsonian’s Tony Hiss, “with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won’t let species vanish.”
Thus far conservationists haven’t been thinking “big enough,” he says. “Why, when this thing gets really going, you’ll be so surrounded, so enveloped by connected corridors that you’ll almost never not be in a national park, or at any rate in a landscape that leads to a national park.”
Hiss credits Wilson as the “father of sociobiology,” and the man is indeed a living legend. He has earned over 100 scientific awards and honors and holds two Pulitzer Prizes for his decades of research. But is the “Half Earth” plan feasible? It seems unlikely that any country would willingly sacrifice 50 percent of its resources for the sake of turtles, wolves or even whales.
Wilson’s well aware. “Battles are where the fun is,” he says, “and where the most rapid advances are made.”