Edward O Wilson is one of the world’s most revered, reviled and referenced conservation biologists. In his new book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, he comes out with all guns blazing, proclaiming the terrible fate of biodiversity, the need for radical conservation, and humanity’s centrality in both. His basic message is simple: desperate times call for desperate measures, ‘only by setting aside half the planet in reserve, or more, can we save the living part of the environment and achieve the stabilisation required for our own survival’. Asserting that ‘humanity’ behaves like a destructive juggernaut, Wilson is deeply concerned that the current ‘sixth extinction’ is destroying many species before scientists have even been able to identify them.
Turning half of the Earth into a series of nature parks is a grand utopian vision for conservation, perhaps even a hyperbolic one, yet Wilson seems deadly serious about it. Some environmental thinkers have been arguing the exact opposite, namely that conservation should give up its infatuation with parks and focus on ‘mixing’ people and nature in mutually conducive ways. Wilson defends a traditional view that nature needs more protection, and attacks them for being ‘unconcerned with what the consequences will be if their beliefs are played out’. As social scientists who study the impact of international conservation on peoples around the world, we would argue that it is Wilson himself who has fallen into this trap: the world he imagines in Half-Earth would be a profoundly inhumane one if ever his beliefs were ‘played out’.
“…[a] universe of reason triumphant over superstition.”
The superstition that Wilson talks about includes God’s biblical command to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the Earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). In all fairness, the ignorant, semi-nomadic Iron Age goat herders who made up this nonsense could not have foreseen a day when the human population would not only dominate the Earth but threaten its own survival as a species by its destructive actions. But I’d like to think that we’re a tad smarter and more informed today, and that what we seen going on in the natural world will motivate us to change our ways.
Unfortunately, religious belief blocks this motivation. The God of Israel is still telling four billion of people that Sin and Nature are the real enemies and that we can survive only by following his commands. Worse, evangelical fundamentalists believe that if the world is truly coming to an end, it’s because we’re living in the End Times and that pollution, over-consumption and habitat destruction have nothing to do with it. Extinction as a self-caused, self-fulfilling phenomenon is then conveniently excused as the inevitable end point ushering in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. the Messiah or Mohammad, which they see as wholly desirable. Mankind cannot and will not survive this kind of stupidity