October 23 is Half-Earth Day: Can We Set Aside Half of this Earth to Preserve Life for Future Generations?

Tomorrow, October 23, is Half-Earth Day to celebrate the work that people are doing to protect half of the Earth’s land and sea area in order to maintain the Earth’s biodiversity for future generations! “Half-Earth” or “Nature Needs Half” is a relatively new concept put forward by E.O. Wilson and other biologists that is based on ecological principles and has galvanized scientists, civil society, artists and many others around the world to push toward protecting half the Earth’s terrestrial area and at least 40% of the oceans in order to maintain upwards of 85% of all Earth’s biodiversity in the long term. This is based on scientific understandings of species-area curves and numerous scientific studies showing the importance of large, contiguous well-protected habitats to overall biodiversity. While it by itself does not guarantee the survival of Earth’s creatures it is still a critical first step toward giving species the basic resources, i.e. habitat, they need to survive and flourish. This is not your conservation of old, either, because both Half-Earth and Nature Needs Half expressly recognize the importance and even centrality of indigenous managed-territories in their vision of half of the world protected and stewarded by humans. Currently approximately 10—15% of the Earth’s terrestrial surface is under some form of protection and this is increasing by 4% per decade, so we will have to double this rate to achieve the Half-Earth goals by 2050. There is fast-growing recognition that territories managed by indigenous and other communities are just as effective at preventing deforestation and ecosystem degradation as state-managed protected areas, yet indigenous peoples currently lack recognition of 75% of their lands. Thus this could be an area in which there is a huge increase in reserves, alongside new protected areas and sustainable use areas, in the 21st century.

Half-Earth offers a positive vision that is based on scientifically-supported goals. Perhaps more importantly it taps into humans’ deeply-seated need to be in connection with nature and to take care of this biological Eden in which the human species first arose, developed and learned about itself — and which is the only place we can truly call home. The Half-Earth celebration is taking place in Washington, D.C. and it will feature representatives from landscape-level conservation projects including African Parks, the American Prairie Reserve, the Gorongosa Restoration Project, National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project, and Tompkins Conservation. There will also be talks by E.O. Wilson, Paul Simon, Sean Carroll and others. Happy Half-Earth Day and may we find the wisdom to preserve that which truly matters the most — the diversity of life on this planet!

Cover image: E.O. Wilson — famed entomologist (i.e. insect biologist) and one of the creators of the half-Earth concept. Photo by Jim Harrison and copyrighted under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.5 license).

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