E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation Statement on the Death of Thomas Lovejoy

Thomas Lovejoy shaking hands with E.O. Wilson.

The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation is saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, renowned conservation biologist, and a champion for addressing climate change and the extinction crisis. We share our condolences with the family of Dr. Lovejoy, his friends, and the entire conservation community.

With the passing of both E.O. Wilson and Thomas Lovejoy this December, the world has lost two giants of conservation whose legacies will live on in their countless students, collaborators, and friends.

“When our friend Tom Lovejoy joined the Half-Earth Council, he did what he’s always done, joined in collaboration around the best science, and leaned-in earnestly in friendship. His leadership and guidance–his example, combined the head and the heart. He will be missed,” said Dr. Paula J. Ehrlich, President and CEO of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and co-founder of the Half-Earth Project.

The onstage panel discussion at the Carolina Theatre featuring E.O. Wilson and Tom Lovejoy.

Thomas Lovejoy (George Mason University, Half-Earth Council), Louie Psihoyos (Oceanic Preservation Society, Half-Earth Council), John Seager (Population Connection, Half-Earth Council), Edward O. Wilson

Lovejoy coined the term “biological diversity,” conducted most of his research in the Amazon, and studied the connection between biodiversity loss and a changing climate.  He brought public attention to the extinction crisis through service as an advisor to several US Presidents, through his writing, many projects with the United Nations Foundation, National Geographic Society, the Woodrow Wilson Center, the World Bank, the Smithsonian Institution, GEF, and through his teaching at George Mason University. Dr. Lovejoy was also the founder of the public television series “Nature.”

Dr. Lovejoy, like E.O. Wilson, shared a reverence for nature, and an insight into human nature on how to make conservation personally meaningful. 

“The natural world in which we live is nothing short of entrancing—wondrous really. Personally, I take great joy in sharing a world with the shimmering variety of life on earth. Nor can I believe any of us really want a planet which is a lonely wasteland,” offered Lovejoy in an interview with the BBC in 2000.

Lovejoy and E.O. Wilson shared a long friendship and were often collaborators.  Lovejoy accompanied Wilson on his first trip to the Amazon. Wilson and Lovejoy were both among the co-founders of the Society for Conservation Biology in 1986. Lovejoy also contributed to Biodiversity edited by E.O. Wilson in 1988 (National Academy Press), reviewed The Ants by B. Holldobler and E.O. Wilson in 1990 (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press), wrote E.O. Wilson: An Introduction in 1991 (Wings: Essays on Invertebrate Conservation), and reviewed The Diversity of Life by E.O. Wilson in 1992 (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press).

In 2017 at Duke University, Lovejoy joined the Half-Earth Project as a panelist in ​​The James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Distinguished Lectureship in Biodiversity: ‘Half-Earth: How to Save the Natural World’.

Of “Half-Earth”, Lovejoy shared, “The whole effort has to go on two tracks, one – full blast adding to the nature estate under protection…and simultaneously working on the drivers that would make it hard to achieve it.”

In 2019, E.O. Wilson wrote the foreword to Biodiversity and Climate Change: Transforming the Biosphere, edited by Thomas Lovejoy and Lee Hannah (Yale University Press). Wilson shared his praise, “…it will serve as a textbook, and a call to action.”

Thomas Lovejoy will be remembered for his ardent optimism and call for a deeper understanding of nature as well. Recently, in a guest editorial for the NY Times, he offered that mankind had to remember how the planet works in order to find our way through the climate crisis,  “— as a linked biological and physical system with a beating, photosynthesizing, rainmaking heart of wild woods.”


In 2017 the Half-Earth Project program partners and Half-Earth Council gathered at The Carolina Theatre and the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University for two full days of public lectures, roundtable discussions, and film screenings about how the Half-Earth Project will bring this grand vision and important goal to life. Thomas Lovejoy, E.O. Wilson, Louie Psihoyos, John Seager held a panel discussion. Watch the discussion.


See also:

The natural world loses two of its biggest advocates (Science)

Honoring the Legacy of E. O. Wilson and Tom Lovejoy (The New Yorker)

Read the full collection of tributes to Dr. Wilson.

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