Sean: At what point did you know enough as a scientist, or had travelled enough, that you perceived a threat to nature?
Ed: I knew it when I started going into the tropics in the early 1950s, but it’s the sort of thing you see and you don’t grasp at first. I saw ruined environments in Mexico and parts of the South Pacific, and I used to say, “Oh well, they messed that one up. That makes it a lot harder to go to the rainforest; I have to go way over the mountain range.”
We only began to put the big picture together in the 1970s and 1980s, which allowed us to think in terms of what could be preserved and how we might be able to do it.
Sean: You’ve looked at this picture globally – you’re far more experienced than almost any biologist in this – and looked at how large a task this is. Let me make sure I have an understanding of where we would start. Would we start with habitat protection? Is the first job, before we lose anything else, to protect the ecosystem?
Sean: And that’s something people can do.
Ed: Absolutely. That’s what the best global conservation organisations and our government (and other environmentally inclined governments, such as Sweden and the Netherlands) are doing: protecting the remaining wild environment. This is the equivalent of getting a patient to the emergency room – keep them alive and then figure out how to save them.
The global conservation organisations are doing everything they can on modest budgets. They essentially promote setting aside reserves and parks around the world. Recently, in the book Half Earth (due out in March 2016), I’ve made the case for global reserves that collectively cover half the surface of Earth’s land and sea.