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Can the World Really Set Aside Half of the Planet for Wildlife?
August 31, 2014 12:10 AM   Subscribe

Wilson recently calculated that the only way humanity could stave off a mass extinction crisis, as devastating as the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, would be to set aside half the planet as permanently protected areas for the ten million other species. “Half Earth,” in other words, as I began calling it—half for us, half for them.

A Canadian take on the Half World idea. Or is it just anthropocentric arrogance?
posted by viggorlijah (41 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
We could. But we're not going to.
posted by fshgrl at 1:02 AM on August 31 [12 favorites]


I scrolled through that article looking for the parts where they said exactly which half would have the inhabitants uprooted from their land and forced to move elsewhere and where they would move. Those details were missing. Regardless of how this might work for conservation (and I have some reserves about claiming back urban land for that), it would not work politically or practically. First you'd need all the world governments to work together. Then you'd need to agree on where all the displaced people would go. Then you'd need to make them move without causing a literal world wide war. None of those things are possible.

The idea of setting aside and rehabilitating land for conservation is a good one. New Zealand, for example, is a world leader in this. But it's very difficult to do more than preserve what natural environment is left. Claiming back 50% of the land mass is an unrealistic goal, and I'm sure the environmentalists are using it more as a talking point than any hoped-for reality.
posted by shelleycat at 1:02 AM on August 31 [5 favorites]


Sure that would work, cept we're also destroying the world's oceans and besides the whole food web thing once the oceans hit co2 absorption capacity I'm sure things won't be great for either half of the planet.
posted by banished at 1:23 AM on August 31 [2 favorites]


I personally look forward to living in giant walled cities that are half underground, surrounded by wildlife parks, a la It's Such a Beautiful Day.

Urbanisation and the rural depopulation is already doing this anyway. And I wonder about the potential to create new work - the people who will be replanting and restoring, shepherding and observing these new parks, taking people safely in and out and creating new ways to live with a lighter footprint.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:38 AM on August 31 [2 favorites]


Of course, we're not going to. I count myself lucky to have lived during a period in which large animals still roamed the Earth and the seas. The life of humans will always trump wild life, and we shall continue to plow or destroy until there is nothing left to exploit. We shall provide the answer to the Fermi paradox in our own time.

Still, past extinction events have shown that life will spring back. Eventually.
posted by bouvin at 1:46 AM on August 31 [11 favorites]


Something microscopic may get us soon. Seven billion humans could easily be culled back to a manageable one billion or so like it was in 1800. But even a billion people are a billion too many if they're set on using up the planet.
posted by pracowity at 2:03 AM on August 31


We'd sooner die.
posted by el io at 2:16 AM on August 31 [2 favorites]


Wilson recently calculated that the only way humanity could stave off a mass extinction crisis, as devastating as the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, would be to set aside half the planet as permanently protected areas for the ten million other species.

Calculated? The only way?

That makes it sound like a very precise prediction. Like you can actually precisely calculate the future.
But all predictions about the future involve models, for which you make assumptions. And it turns out that in hindsight most models are just completely wrong, because they overlook one or more crucial factors, and the predictions about the future that turn out to be correct were basically just lucky guesses.

For example, I wonder if he took into account our ability to resurrect extinct species or even create new species using genetic engineering? Might be a little wobbly right now, but will certainly take off over the next 100 years or so.

So, setting aside half the planet for animals is a radical solution to an unproven problem. I'm sure the guy has tremendous accomplishments in the field of sociobiology, but this idea is kooky.
posted by sour cream at 2:23 AM on August 31 [5 favorites]


Which half? Not my half.
posted by evil_esto at 2:33 AM on August 31 [2 favorites]


Unlike the insect thread, this is an idea I could really get behind. Half the world becoming national parks! Wildlife sanctuaries! That would be awesome.

Thing is, though, we have a pretty sketchy record when it comes to other species and good intentions. If we set out to make the world a friendlier place for them, we'd probably manage to screw things up somehow and end up making it worse instead.*sigh*
posted by misha at 2:47 AM on August 31 [1 favorite]


That makes it sound like a very precise prediction. Like you can actually precisely calculate the future.

followed by

Might be a little wobbly right now, but will certainly take off over the next 100 years or so.

Hmm...
posted by Pyrogenesis at 3:02 AM on August 31 [7 favorites]


> I scrolled through that article looking for the parts where they said exactly which half would have the inhabitants uprooted from their land and forced to move elsewhere and where they would move.

/me rolls his eyes. Your comment assumes that there are people living on 100% of the Earth today. Do you really believe that to be true?

In fact, humans today occupy 43% of the surface of the Earth This means that no one living anywhere today would have to be displaced. It DOES mean that our future expansion would need to be curbed - but isn't that obvious?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:17 AM on August 31 [13 favorites]


Every now and then on local TV news (in England), there will be some wood or meadow or field that is "under threat" of development. Maybe a housing estate; maybe a quarry; maybe a road.

And, inevitably, there is an interview with a local campaigner, a large flock of his children behind him or her, saying, and this is the logical contortion that does my head in, that the wood or meadow or field needs to be "saved or preserved for my children".

And it reminds of the opening scene of the last episode of Utopia (warning: uncomfortable, threat).
posted by Wordshore at 3:22 AM on August 31 [5 favorites]


If they really want to preserve biodiversity then just putting aside the places not already lived in would not be enough. They would instead have to carefully choose a representative half, one that covers as much biodiversity as possible. Which would mean that people are displaced, there's no way around it because of the biases in the kinds of places we choose to live. NZ, for example, has many unique habitats and species which don't exist elsewhere and would need to move a lot of people ... somewhere (who knows where), to help reach this goal. I can think of several reasons why it would not work, not least of which is people refusing - possibly violently - to be moved.

I'm all for preserving what we have left and reclaiming what we can. But the 50% goal seems really arbitrary and the practical side of how it could even work poorly thought out.
posted by shelleycat at 3:39 AM on August 31 [2 favorites]


They have some very nice islands in NZ that are off limits if you don't have permission to visit them, as bird sanctuaries and the like. I remember my dad complaining about the resource management act because you could no longer do what you wanted with farm land, but had to think about long term effects and get planning permission, but it's become just the accepted way to farm now.

I think the corridors and islands part proposed is important - you could have a city and an intensively farmed area as islands within a wildlife preserve. It's not drawing a line down continents, more a marbled map. Having a field of palm oil next to a field of virgin rainforest, rather than an either-nor.

There was an article recently about the Great Apes in Rwanda, where tourism and research certainly brings in a significant amount of money and resources, but the local villagers who are not benefitting from that directly are frustrated at being blocked from access to land and forest areas they could use for a bunch of bloody gorillas. It only works if there's power through government enforcement or economic benefits to those who are displaced.

People get moved all the time for development projects. Getting moved for the opposite of development could be done with the right incentives. The people who might refuse are those with cultural ties who probably should be able to stay as caretakers of the land.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:51 AM on August 31 [4 favorites]


This is advertised as a plan for the world, but all the details are about North America. What's the plan for Africa? Which half of Indonesia are we clearing?
posted by Segundus at 3:57 AM on August 31 [1 favorite]


I note the main article speaks of half-earth, but only talks about the United States.

Elsewhere in the world, they're having trouble keeping poachers out of the few nature preserves we DO have. So while this does indeed seem plausible in this country, I wonder how realistic it would be to get the rest of the world on board all that fast.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:41 AM on August 31


The main article in this post primarily discusses both the United States and Canada because the author interviewed scientists and philanthropists who are actually already actively working on creating wildlife corridors to connect national parks and other wildlife preserves in the U.S. and Canada. The projects the author studied as small-scale examples of how this whole Half Earth thing might actually work without impeding local economies or displacing people are in the U.S. and Canada. There are almost certainly other such projects around the globe. But these particular projects are the ones that the author visited in person. That may be because the article author is biased. Or it may be because reporters aren't paid well and the author didn't have a globetrotting trip in his budget.

Another reason the main article focuses on projects that involve U.S. scientists and U.S. National Parks is that it's in Smithsonian Magazine. You know, by the Smithsonian Institution? The national museum of the United States?

You guys. RTFA. I know it's three pages, but sheesh.
posted by BlueJae at 5:18 AM on August 31 [9 favorites]


They can have the wet parts and the year round snowy parts.
posted by miyabo at 5:23 AM on August 31


I understand why the article (which I DID read, thanks) focused on North American projects.

That still doesn't address my actual point, which is that similar projects are most likely going to have a harder time finding a footing in countries where the national preserves that do exist are much more tenuous and face much greater struggles with poaching. If this article had discussed how E.O. Wilson had spent his time recovering from his stroke (see, proof I read it) by joining the police force that stood watch overnight every night against poachers trying to shoot all the woodland bison, then I could see a comparison. But the only mention of people trying to actually kill the animals inside U.S. reservations discusses people digging up the turtles in the 1930s - not today.

My point being, while the article does make a very good case for how such a long-landscape reservation works in North America, it doesn't address the problems facing other countries' and continents' reserves; places like Africa, where an entire team of the military is devoted to sentry duty around the wildlife preserves, guarding elephants against poachers who are being paid by a Chinese market for ivory. This article doesn't mention how the long-landscape approach discussed in North America would translate to that kind of societal pressure.

Bluejae. RMFcomment. I know it's more than one sentence, but sheesh.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:24 AM on August 31


You guys. RTFA

I read it: apparently you didn't get as far as the title.

A proposal for a series of national parks in North America is not a proposal that half the earth be set aside, and the suggestion is comically grandiloquent.
posted by Segundus at 6:38 AM on August 31


First, this article needs to be read as part of the pushback by Wilson and his allies against the Conservation in the Anthropocene article and its followups (this New Yorker article gives a good overview of the entire thing) with its sharp criticism of classical conservationist thinking as outdated and ineffective. (I don't think it's been an FPP yet; if it hasn't it very much should be.)

The issue is entirely about the role of humans in the landscape:

In answering these questions, conservation cannot promise a return to pristine, prehuman landscapes. Humankind has already profoundly transformed the planet and will continue to do so.6 What conservation could promise instead is a new vision of a planet in which nature -- forests, wetlands, diverse species, and other ancient ecosystems -- exists amid a wide variety of modern, human landscapes. For this to happen, conservationists will have to jettison their idealized notions of nature, parks, and wilderness -- ideas that have never been supported by good conservation science -- and forge a more optimistic, human-friendly vision.

Classic conservationism has always been and largely continues to be tone deaf on this issue, most of all around the place of indigenous peoples in the landscape. You'll notice on the map on the first page of the "Half Earth" article how it has that lovely north-south corridor labeled "Western Wildway" -- that corridor is basically the intermountain west, which is the only geographical area of the US which still has extensive Indian ownership (and even more so when you include not only reservations but also the much larger areas on which the tribes retain various treaty rights and ancestral use).

In fact, humans today occupy 43% of the surface of the Earth

That link isn't available to read without a sign-in, but that 43% figure massively understates our overall impact, as well as understating how human use is concentrated in areas with high biological value.

That still doesn't address my actual point, which is that similar projects are most likely going to have a harder time finding a footing in countries where the national preserves that do exist are much more tenuous and face much greater struggles with poaching.

It varies by place and by species, but poaching remains a big issue in the US as well. And it's not just poaching -- my local wolf pack is probably going to receive a kill order from the state this year because of so much intense pushback, partly from ranchers but mostly from big game hunters with good political connections; these are the first wolves in the area since they were extirpated more than a century ago, and they live almost entirely on millions of acres of public lands. We manage our public lands for harvest, of trees and big game and anything else we can extract, and the distinction between "poaching" and "legal harvest" can be more regulatory than reflective of conservation values.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:57 AM on August 31 [14 favorites]


Oh, and another thing -

Another reason the main article focuses on projects that involve U.S. scientists and U.S. National Parks is that it's in Smithsonian Magazine. You know, by the Smithsonian Institution? The national museum of the United States?

Yeah, I am aware of the Smithsonian, it comes in my mailbox every week. I RTFA in print before this got posted.

The fact that the Smithsonian is an American magazine only emphasizes my point, that this is an American magazine looking at an American scientific effort and speculating it could be applied to other countries. And it can't.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:04 AM on August 31 [1 favorite]


Ebola is just a couple of mutations away from making the whole orb safe for all wildlife
posted by Renoroc at 7:27 AM on August 31 [1 favorite]


Except for like, other primates and bats.
posted by Small Dollar at 7:49 AM on August 31 [4 favorites]


Like other folks in this thread, I think setting aside half the earth is completely impossible; doing pretty anything for/to/with the entire planet earth, as a single unified front, is politically impossible with no unified world government and instead a wide variety of disparate nation states engaging in an economic race to the bottom against each other... At least until the time comes when a small enough number of people control so much of the world's wealth that they can just straight-up use money to do whatever they want, on a global scale - at that point, if by some miracle a large percentage of them decide to be rabid conservationists, maybe this could happen. Unfortunately the 1% do not as a general rule seem to be concerned with using their disproportionate power and influence to save the planet. And yes, I have pretty mixed feelings about hoping for a future where the ultra-wealthy just discard the rule of law in order to save the planet, but that's the only way I can even imagine it happening at this point.

That being said, this Davis guy still sounds awesome and I'm really glad he's doing what he's doing.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:10 AM on August 31 [1 favorite]


It would be easier to just raise people's standard of living so they can transport and store their food over long distances and time. This has been successful in New Jersey for 150 years to the point that deer and bear are so plentiful they are a nuisance. The New Jersey model of unfettered capitalism is so successful that huge tracts of forest have been created because the value of the land is close to nil for food production purposes or as a source of energy to heat homes and cook food. I can't even remember the last time I treed and killed a raccoon for dinner the system works so good.
posted by otto42 at 8:28 AM on August 31 [1 favorite]


Hey if the animals want half of America, they can go get a damn job and work for it!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:44 AM on August 31


It seems pretty clear to me that the "Half-Earth" idea is aspirational, not a hard goal. The reporter lead with that because it's splashy, but the real meat of the article is the work that's actually being done right now in linking up isolated remaining habitats. Which is really neat!
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:57 AM on August 31 [2 favorites]


When I was driving once
I saw this painted on a bridge . . .
 
posted by Herodios at 9:59 AM on August 31 [6 favorites]


Biophilia. I like it.
posted by mule98J at 10:06 AM on August 31


Something microscopic may get us soon. Seven billion humans could easily be culled back to a manageable one billion or so like it was in 1800. But even a billion people are a billion too many if they're set on using up the planet.

It's funny how nobody ever seems to volunteer to be part of this surplus and unnecessary seven billion. I suppose that's for the lesser types.
posted by Justinian at 10:31 AM on August 31 [3 favorites]


Which half? Not my half.

Okay, listen up all you forms of life that don't have chainsaws and refineries. Your half is the deep ocean trenches, the stratosphere, and the polar regions. Stay in your half and there won't be any trouble. Unless we find oil there. We're not about to back down just when we're finally on the verge of decisively winning the War on Nature.
posted by sfenders at 11:38 AM on August 31 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos, my comment was not directed solely, specifically, at you, though since it followed yours, I understand how you might misinterpret it that way. But there's a reason why I did not use any one user's name. There were a number of comments about how this article wasn't even really worth reading because it only discusses North America and shelleycat even openly admitted not reading the article.

I'm not saying it's not important to discuss how or even if this idea could possibly work in other regions of the world; I'm not saying that it's not really, deeply important to consider the needs of people living in parts of the world that are not the U.S. I'm saying that a number of people commenting on this idea don't seem to have finished the article, let alone considered it in the context of 1.) the specific projects the writer had immediate access to, or 2.) the unusually specific geographical focus of the magazine the article was published in.

I think the title of the article (which probably wasn't even chosen by the author, but an editor looking for something click-baity) definitely oversells the article's scope, which I agree is quite limited by its focus on American projects. But saying "This article does not live up to the promise of its title" is not the same thing as saying "This article is utterly useless and not worth reading."

And honestly, if this article HAD been about projects outside of the U.S., I get the feeling someone would show up in this thread complaining that the U.S. needs to stop expecting people in other countries to come up with environmental solutions when Americans use and waste more natural resources than anyone else in the world, etc.

If anyone could find an article about projects like this outside of the U.S., though, and post it to the thread, that would be lovely.
posted by BlueJae at 12:12 PM on August 31 [1 favorite]


We could do a time share, we just have to decide which six months to take. I vote for March, April, May for a nice pleasant spring. Then we'll take November, December, January, so we can get all the winter/New Year's holidays across the world, and also just snowbird into Southern Hemisphere areas for great weather too.
posted by FJT at 12:20 PM on August 31


Okay, here is some information on similar projects elsewhere, driven directly by local people:

According to the article linked second IN THE POST as "A Canadian take:"

"First nations have long wanted to protect vast swaths of the Mackenzie Basin in Yukon and the Northwest Territories. But territorial governments have resisted tying up land and resources that could finance roads, health care and other jewels of future provincehood." In fact it turns out First Nations groups in Canada formed a coalition with conservation groups and filed a lawsuit to try to prevent mining and other industrial development in that area. Of the lawsuit, Chief Ed Champion of the Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation said, "To us, that land and water is sacred and should be preserved for future generations."

A similar project to those profiled in the Smithsonian article, meant to connect nationally protected conservation areas with wildlife corridors has been underway since 1999 in Bhutan. According to the economic affairs minister of Bhutan, Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, "Ours is to be a green economy. So we need to keep in mind that economic growth can take place anytime. However if our environment is damaged, it would be lost forever."

In 2011 five African nations-- Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana, Zambia, and Namibia-- joined with both grassroots African conservation groups and international conservation groups to create the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, a mixed-use conservation area meant to preserve wildlife corridors across political borders without disrupting the local economy.

The Chocó-Darién Conservation Corridor in Columbia was established through the work of COCOMASUR, an Afro-Colombian community association, to stop the spread of cattle ranching into indigenous lands and simultaneously protect one of the most ecologically diverse rainforest ecosystems on the planet.

Seems to me there are a number of places in the world where the locals are just fine with the idea of setting aside large swaths of land for conservation, so long as they themselves are directly involved in the process of choosing how to set the land aside so as not to be too disruptive to their communities.
posted by BlueJae at 12:55 PM on August 31 [4 favorites]


Classic conservationism has always been and largely continues to be tone deaf on this issue, most of all around the place of indigenous peoples in the landscape.

So therefore we should "jettison" the idea of parks, and instead "partner with corporations in a science-based effort to integrate the value of nature's benefits into their operations"? The great success of that approach as described in your New Yorker link seems to be convincing Dow that they don't need smokestack scrubbers, they can just plant a few trees around the chemical plant instead. I mean, I'm sure that's nice and everything, but it's not really doing much to address the problem.

That problem being not merely biodiversity loss, but the slow death of the world's ecosystems. They may not be as fragile as is sometimes imagined, but all the evidence points to them not doing so well right now on average. The main point of the study from which that "invertebrate abundance" link came is exactly that loss of species isn't the only concern, it's pretty much everything dieing and diminishing, even species and phyla that aren't in any immediate danger of complete extinction. Almost no place is in some kind of pristine state of undisturbed nature, but that doesn't mean it's a bad idea to try and stop some of it getting worse like most of the world is.

Also, Jared Diamond has not been proven wrong on Easter Island. There are competing theories.

More on indigenous peoples and parks in Canada:
Thaidene Nene
Conservation, Community Benefit, Capacity Building and the Social Economy
Many of Canada’s National Parks Now Honor First Nations Peoples

That is how you modify traditional conservation efforts like national parks to respect the rights of people that are already living on the land. Not by giving up and deciding all we can do is negotiate for small concessions from Dow Chemical and Coca-Cola.
posted by sfenders at 3:36 PM on August 31 [1 favorite]


which is that similar projects are most likely going to have a harder time finding a footing in countries where the national preserves that do exist are much more tenuous and face much greater struggles with poaching

Just the opposite. Most African governments are invested in preserving wildlife as a resource. And they have large tracts of intact wilderness to work with and public acceptance that large potentially dangerous animals roam around unfettered.

Try getting that done in Holland or the UK. No fucking way.
posted by fshgrl at 6:00 PM on August 31


I remember reading about the King's Forest as a setting, just miles and miles of deep dense wood that had been barely touched for centuries, and thinking of how the UK must have seemed in the Roman era, wilderness around towns, although in fact there were local tribes living in and among the human-altered wilderness. The marshes with King Stephen were some of the last unaltered lands, in that sense I think.

Wikipedias entry on Royal Forests is pretty interesting as a comparison. The 0.1% are our current Kings, and the legal and social preservation of the land in various limits of human cultivation has happened before, and likely will happen again. We'll pay rents and licenses for curtailed use, and if you're rich enough, half the world will be your Eden.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:12 PM on August 31 [1 favorite]


Just the opposite. Most African governments are invested in preserving wildlife as a resource. And they have large tracts of intact wilderness to work with and public acceptance that large potentially dangerous animals roam around unfettered.

And poachers out the wazoo.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:51 AM on September 1


shelleycat even openly admitted not reading the article.

What? I read all of the linked articles. I read the main article twice, once skimming, then again fully. All before I commented. I never said I didn't so maybe I'm not the one that needs to do more or better reading.
posted by shelleycat at 1:39 PM on September 1


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