Episode 73: Interview with Thomas Lovejoy, “The Godfather of Biodiversity”

Episode 73: Interview with Thomas Lovejoy, “The Godfather of Biodiversity”

Biological diversity and climate change are two incontrovertibly intertwined issues. Destroying and degrading ecosystems releases huge amounts carbon into the atmosphere, and in turn, increasing carbon in the atmosphere adversely affects the delicate balance of biodiversity where it presently exists. Professor Thomas Lovejoy has spent many years studying the relationship between biological diversity and climate change, today he talks with us about why we should think about them together and what we should do for the future, and Biodiversity and Climate Change, which Professor Lovejoy co-edited.

In this interview, Professor Lovejoy discusses the clear evidence of climate change on biological diversity–how it has wreaked havoc on historical patterns, changing the annual calendar and location of species; how the largest wildlife habitat, the ocean, has become more acidic; and shockingly, how the amount of carbon in the atmosphere from degraded ecosystems is the same as the total remaining in extant ecosystems.

Professor Lovejoy argues here that we can take action to restore ecosystems. Conserved or restored forest ecosystems, for example, lead to better watersheds and provide wildlife habitats; conserved or restored coastal ecosystems such as mangroves are more effective to reduce storm surge than a sea wall which simply spreads the impact; restoring agricultural systems to carbon additive systems unlike the modern approaches that leak carbon results in better soil fertility. If we are unable to mitigate ecosystems, we can also take an approach to do ecosystem-based adaptation, which is conservation design so that species can move from one elevation or location to another.

Although the Global Climate Action Summit in September will in all likelihood renew our focus on biodiversity and conservation, we don’t have a minute to lose. Professor Lovejoy argues we need to pivot, and start to think for all the effects our daily choices have within our economic system. There is a need for dramatic change, now, and we need society to reach tipping point where this becomes a central focus.

Thomas Lovejoy, PhD has been a University Professor at George Mason since 2010, focusing on the application of ecological science to conservation policy. Previously, he held the Biodiversity Chair at the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment and was President from 2002-2008. Starting in the 1970’s he helped bring attention to the issue of tropical deforestation and in 1980 published the first estimate of global extinction rates (in the Global 2000 Report to the President). He conceived the idea for the long term study on forest fragmentation in the Amazon (started in 1978) which is the largest experiment in landscape ecology. He coined the term “Biological diversity”, originated the concept of debt-for-nature swaps and has worked on the interaction between climate change and biodiversity for more than 30 years. He is the founder of the public television series “Nature”. In the past, he served as the Senior Advisor to the President of the United Nations Foundation, as the Chief Biodiversity Advisor to the World Bank as well as Lead Specialist for the Environment for the Latin American region, as the Assistant Secretary for Environmental and External Affairs for the Smithsonian Institution, and as Executive Vice President of World Wildlife Fund-US.

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