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The Anthropocene Epoch #3

Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life

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In order to stave off the mass extinction of species, including our own, we must move swiftly to preserve the biodiversity of our planet, says Edward O. Wilson in his most impassioned book to date. Half-Earth argues that the situation facing us is too large to be solved piecemeal and proposes a solution commensurate with the magnitude of the problem: dedicate fully half the surface of the Earth to nature.

If we are to undertake such an ambitious endeavor, we first must understand just what the biosphere is, why it's essential to our survival, and the manifold threats now facing it. In doing so, Wilson describes how our species, in only a mere blink of geological time, became the architects and rulers of this epoch and outlines the consequences of this that will affect all of life, both ours and the natural world, far into the future.

Half-Earth provides an enormously moving and naturalistic portrait of just what is being lost when we clip "twigs and eventually whole braches of life's family tree." In elegiac prose, Wilson documents the many ongoing extinctions that are imminent, paying tribute to creatures great and small, not the least of them the two Sumatran rhinos whom he encounters in captivity. Uniquely, Half-Earth considers not only the large animals and star species of plants but also the millions of invertebrate animals and microorganisms that, despite being overlooked, form the foundations of Earth's ecosystems.

In stinging language, he avers that the biosphere does not belong to us and addresses many fallacious notions such as the idea that ongoing extinctions can be balanced out by the introduction of alien species into new ecosystems or that extinct species might be brought back through cloning. This includes a critique of the "anthropocenists," a fashionable collection of revisionist environmentalists who believe that the human species alone can be saved through engineering and technology.

Despite the Earth's parlous condition, Wilson is no doomsayer, resigned to fatalism. Defying prevailing conventional wisdom, he suggests that we still have time to put aside half the Earth and identifies actual spots where Earth's biodiversity can still be reclaimed. Suffused with a profound Darwinian understanding of our planet's fragility, Half-Earth reverberates with an urgency like few other books, but it offers an attainable goal that we can strive for on behalf of all life.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published March 7, 2016

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About the author

Edward O. Wilson

178 books2,141 followers
Edward Osborne Wilson, sometimes credited as E. O. Wilson, was an American biologist, researcher, theorist, and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, a branch of entomology. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, Wilson is known for his career as a scientist, his advocacy for environmentalism, and his secular-humanist ideas pertaining to religious and ethical matters. He was the Pellegrino University Research Professor in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He is a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 323 reviews
Profile Image for Radiantflux.
412 reviews403 followers
June 19, 2016
38th book for 2016.

The idea behind this book, that 50% of the World should be put aside as a wildness (half for us, half for the rest), is a big idea very well worth exploring.

Unfortunately, this book does no justice to the idea. It rambles along. Talks a lot about the beauty of the natural world, of the joys of being a naturalist, rants against the stupidity of people who somehow see value in half-wild places, and finally in this short book pays a scant few pages to vaguely outlining the idea of putting aside 50% of the World to wilderness. The book ends with random thoughts about robotics, whole-brain-emulation (!), and how free markets will naturally evolve to be eco-friendly so no need to worry about climate change (!!!!).

It's a real shame, as the idea behind the book is great and audacious, and someone of the stature of Wilson is needed to really push it forward. What a wasted opportunity.
Profile Image for Keith Akers.
Author 5 books74 followers
April 21, 2016
Species are going extinct about 1000 times as fast as the “normal” rate of extinction. The solution, argues the author, is to give over half of the earth to the wild animals. I am a nonspecialist, and in addition to Wilson’s book and miscellaneous other articles, I’ve already read Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History as well as Anthony Barnosky’s Dodging Extinction: Power, Food, Money, and the Future of Life on Earth.

The strong point of Wilson’s book is that he understands the complexity of nature on earth, and he brings some new information to the table. And for someone who is new to this issue, this book would explain quite a bit about the complexity of life on earth. If you are thinking, “hey, maybe this whole extinction crisis thing is overblown,” and you are not already familiar with e. g. Kolbert’s or Barnosky’s book, well, this book is for you.

The weak point, and it is unfortunately a significant problem, is that he never really delivers on his promise of a specific plan, despite the title. Basically what should have been the outcome of Wilson’s book — a concrete plan to deal with biodiversity — doesn’t really happen, and now we, the nonspecialists, are left looking elsewhere and scrambling to answer some significant questions. The most significant questions are: “just where is this half of the earth that you propose returning to wilderness? And wouldn’t your proposal necessitate ending livestock agriculture?”

And here’s the bottom line: Anthony Barnosky has written a better book, but Wilson’s book is also valuable and has some material that Barnosky does not, so anyone wanting to know more should read both of them. Kolbert is a great writer, so if you know nothing about any of this and want an entertaining read that will convince you that the extinction crisis is real, read Kolbert. Kolbert doesn’t really offer any specifics on what to do, other than to blame humans for the problem. For specifics, we go to Wilson and to Barnosky.

That’s my review. Here are some details, divided into two sections: some new things I got from the book, and some problems that I had with the book.

To begin with, here are some new things. These are points that I didn’t get (or didn’t get clearly) from Kolbert or Barnosky.

There are people who know how to restore ecosystems, at least to the point of European contact. For example, there are people trying to restore the longleaf pine savannah of the deep South. I had heard of the longleaf pine, but had no idea that this was the key part of a distinct ecosystem. Now I know that this ecosystem is pretty much gone — not just the pine itself, but the ecosystem in which it was dominant — but people are going through and in places restoring it. So we get the impression that when Wilson says that we could restore biodiversity if we really wanted to, he knows what he’s talking about.

But there also are actually people out there who are arguing for less biodiversity. Their argument is, roughly, that there is no point in trying to preserve the pre-human ecological habitats, that the old ecosystems are pretty much broken already, and that we are entering a new era, the Anthropocene, and we should try to make the best of it. I could scarcely believe it. And this apparently includes The Nature Conservancy! I knew that perhaps some people might be decreasing biodiversity by accident, or not fully appreciating the reality of the situation, but some people are actually trying to promote this as desirable. What! This is an outrage. These people are the enemy not just of us, but of all life on earth.

Another critical and interesting point is that there is a way of quantifying species loss via habitat loss. It is that the species that can survive are the fourth root of the habitat still available. Wilson refers to this rule on several occasions. He gives, as an example, that if 90% of the habitat is destroyed, that about half of the total number of species can survive there. It’s fairly remarkable, because it implies that we know a lot more about species extinction than I thought we did. It’s not at all subjective and qualitative, or not in the way that we imagine.

This point could have been explained in more detail. I actually had to “do the math” before I understood what was being said, which I will now do. You’ve heard of square roots and cube roots? Well, this is the fourth root. If Y (species that can survive) = the fourth root of X (habitat still available), then Y * Y * Y * Y = X. So if 10% of the habitat remains (0.1), then the fourth root is 0.56, or roughly half of the species. If 50% of the habitat remains, then about 85% of the species could survive. The habitat decreases a lot faster than the number of species does.

Got that? Of course, that’s just the number of species, not the total number of living organisms, which will decrease roughly in proportion with the habitat remaining.

And now for the more problematic parts. First of all, the book takes too long to get to the “solution.” We are through 80% of the book before we even get to Part 3, “The Solution.” What’s more, the solution’s details are quite problematic and only sketchily outlined. The book made me think, “Oh God, we’ve got a serious problem fighting for biodiversity,” and looking for other books that might supplement Wilson’s point of view, because the details are totally missing, and it sounds like Wilson is completely oblivious to just how badly he’s missed the boat.

How are we going to get half of the earth for the wild animals and plants? I kept expecting him to say something about “limits to growth,” or make a passing reference to livestock agriculture, or refer to the fact that 90% of the biomass of megafauna is now humans, their livestock, and their pets.

Nope, nothing like that. Wilson seems to think that the economy will get bigger and better in every way into the indefinite future, through the miracle of the free enterprise system (chapter 20, “Threading the Bottleneck”). The products that will win out will be those that are the least expensive to manufacture. (He assumes, I think, that this also means “least resource intensive” — big mistake.) Current human population is also not a problem. Agriculture is scarcely even mentioned. He spends just a few pages on this whole subject. Interestingly, the bibliography has some references to the “end of economic growth,” but none of that has crept into the text.

Well, here’s the deal. There is NO WAY you are going to get to “half earth” unless you pretty much ditch livestock agriculture. That’s because livestock agriculture is the leading human use of land and it’s occupying about 1/3 of the earth’s land surface — and some of the most biologically productive areas, also. That’s why over 90% of the large animal biomass on land is humans, their livestock, and their pets. And what about resource shortages, peak oil, deforestation, groundwater mining, and soil erosion? Couldn’t this throw a monkey wrench into the works? Do you think?

Where, exactly, is this half of the earth now dedicated to wilderness? To his credit, Wilson does itemize some ecosystems of the world that deserve to be preserved, in chapter 15, “The best places in the biosphere.” So we have a start, but we do not have a follow-through.

This is what we need for Wilson’s plan to be viable. I want to see a map of the world. I want to see areas mapped out in at least some moderate detail, divided between “wild” and “human-dominated.” I want to see half of it marked “wild.” All right? Further, I don’t expect the “wild part” to be just the Sahara Desert, Antarctica, Greenland, and Siberia. I expect the wild parts to be just as biologically productive as the human parts. I expect the large-animal biomass of the “wild” area roughly to equal the large-animal biomass of the “human dominated” area. If you do this honestly, you are going to eliminate all livestock agriculture AND reduce human population from its current bloated status. Again: do the math.

Also, what about the oceans? Is “half earth” just half of the land area, or are we going to deal with the oceans also?

Wilson should know that natural resources are cheap and THAT’S why we’re pillaging the earth. Fossil fuels are extraordinarily cheap compared to (say) human labor, or even animal labor. And as long as fossil fuels are cheap, minerals are cheap, transportation is cheap, and we have a climate change problem. Yes, technology might come to the rescue, but it can’t be a huge complicated flow chart with the final box reading “then a miracle occurs.” I wish that Wilson would assume currently available technology, and show how we would rope off half the earth for wilderness with that. If we do wind up with some fancy-dancy technology, then we can apply it to the situation.

I appreciate the bold proposal in “Half-Earth.” I wish that he had talked some more — a lot more — on the topic proposed in his title, instead of talking around the issue. Anthony Barnosky is more on point here; he is clear that we’re going to be eating a lot less meat. So if you want the bold proposal, read "Half-Earth." If you want to know how to implement the bold proposal, read Barnosky’s book, "Dodging Extinction."
Profile Image for L.G. Cullens.
Author 2 books73 followers
January 25, 2023
A bold proposition whose time has come. Is a critical mass of our weedy, materialistic species up to it?

"A great majority of people have little awareness of the countless species of the great biosphere that still envelops our planet. ... The millions of species that support the living world and ultimately our own survival have been reduced to “critters” and “bugs.” Within this black night of ignorance we have suffered a massive failure of education and media attention."

There is a lot of value to be learned in the pages of this book.
Profile Image for Maxine.
1,222 reviews40 followers
February 12, 2016
“…[O]nly by committing half of the planet’s surface to nature can we hope to save the immensity of life-forms that compose it.”

In Half-Earth, American biologist and Pulitzer prize winner E.O. Wilson gives a well-researched, well-documented, eloquent, but above all, impassioned plea on behalf of our planet and all of those who call it home, human and non-human alike. Species are dying out at an alarming rate and it is Wilson’s contention that “only by setting aside half the planet in reserve, or more, can we save the living part of the environment and achieve the stabilization required for our own survival”.

Wilson points out that thanks to our behaviour in just the last two centuries, we are now approaching the Anthropocene, a period created by us at the expense of other species. He gives some very interesting counterpoints to those who would argue that this Anthropocene Epoch is now inevitable; that it is really too late to stop the march to extinction completely and we should put all our energy and resources to saving those species who are most useful to us, that in the end the system will right itself. But, as Wilson shows, nature is a complex system in which species depend on each other for survival. To allow the end of even the tiniest mollusk for example can lead and likely will to the end of species that were dependent on it for sustenance starting a chain of extinctions eventually leading to us. Wilson has a more appropriate albeit emotional name for this period, the Eremocene or the Age of Loneliness.

Clearly, Wilson believes that it is time that we stopped seeing ourselves as rulers of the planet and became instead better stewards. He shows clearly and concisely how overpopulation and growing lack of arable land and water rather than religion or historical injustice are driving many of the problems we are facing today in eg the Middle East and, if nothing is done and soon, these problems will only get worse.

This book was both fascinating and eye-opening for me. I found the science enlightening and Wilson’s obvious love and wonderment at the beauty and complexity of nature moving. It was only at the end that the book shows weaknesses. When it comes to the question of how these half-earth reserves are to be achieved, he points to technology but he never really addresses how, in this age of perpetual growth, Anthropocene worldview, and climate change denial, the resolve to make the sacrifices that will be necessary can be achieved. Still, he makes it clear that, if we wish to continue on this planet, we must find ways to do so. As he points out in his final sentence:

“It is simple and easy to say: Do no further harm to the planet. “
Profile Image for Amina.
1,220 reviews254 followers
August 19, 2016
3 stars and a half
This book has two parts, how to hate the humans and how to try to clean their mess
Some chapters were really interesting and some really boring.
What humans are doing to mother earth and all its living creatures is simply despicable!
Conclusion: humans are stupid and heartless
924 reviews50 followers
November 10, 2016
Wilson argues that humanity's only chance for survival as a species is to cooperate with other life forms that make up the biodiversity of the earth. At the rate we're going, our destruction of the environment, in terms of global-warming, is having a disastrous effect on the millions of other life forms on this planet, most of them as yet undiscovered by humans. The long term effects of such destruction means the extinction of humanity. Many species have appeared and disappeared in the history of the planet, the most notable mammalian example being the dinosaurs, so there is no reason to assume that humans can necessarily avoid this fate.

Still, we can try, and Wilson's proposal is that approximately half of the earth should be left in its natural state, protected from human interference, and in this way humans would do minimal harm to the planet. The natural areas would be widespread, so the proposal is not as drastic as it at first sounds, and a hopeful note is that most countries already have protected natural territories. But much more needs to be done. Wilson emphasizes that the biosphere was not intended to be ruled by humans; it does not belong to us, we belong to it.

He takes a very dim view of technology being able to solve the problems of humans existing in a diminished biosphere. This view contends that a good part of the biosphere is already ruined and is beyond repair. No matter, we'll just figure out technological ways to solve our problems, whether it be climate change, food production, species extinction. A much too simplistic approach that doesn't take into account the complexities of the interrelationship of all living things on our planet. Two thirds of all the species on Earth are unknown, and less than one in a thousand have been biologically researched. To wade into this intricacy with crude technological solutions would be the height of folly and would have far-reaching unintended consequences.

Wilson asks where do we think we are going? "I think the great majority of people on earth would agree with the following goals: a long and healthy life for all, abundant sustainable resources, personal freedom, adventure both virtual and real on demand, status, dignity, membership in respectable groups, obedience to wise rulers and laws, and lots of sex with or without reproduction." The problem is, though, Wilson writes, that these are also the goals of your family dog. The dog is on automatic pilot, assuming that these things will fill his life, and if we don't rise above this animal level and give serious thought as to how to bring them about, then we are doomed.

A worthwhile set of proposals, but the problem may be a political will to achieve them. Most people only pay attention to these basically environmental concerns when they begin to notice disastrous consequences (for example, flooding, violent storms, food shortages, for starters) and then it is too late to integrate humanity into the biosphere, and we'll turn to the kind of clumsy and ultimately destructive technological approaches that Wilson deplores.
Profile Image for Greg.
158 reviews3 followers
April 25, 2016
This book is a mess. The first part of the title, Half-Earth, refers to the supposed main argument that humankind must preserve the Earth's biodiversity by leaving half of the Earth as untouched wilderness (or maybe managed wilderness) in order to ensure humankind's survival. Amazingly, the author spends only a few pages unconvincingly discussing this idea. Instead of discussing the central argument, the book spends a surprising number of pages discussing things like artificial intelligence, the joys of being a naturalist scientist, and a survey of fellow scientists' favorite pockets of biodiversity across the world. It's generally an unfocused discussion of any topic remotely related to biodiversity.

On a positive note, the book spends some time discussing the need to defend local ecosystems by defending biodiversity within them. This is an important issue that I agree with. Unfortunately, the arguments aren't very convincing, and they are unlikely to convince people who don't already agree. They basically boil down to the argument that allowing ecosystems to destabilize is playing a game of Russian roulette with the natural world and its ability to support humankind. I'm surprised that a leading scientist in this field can't make stronger arguments based on specific risks.
Profile Image for Josh Friedlander.
707 reviews99 followers
December 10, 2018
If you're reading this, you're probably concerned about our unfolding ecological catastrophe, which has only gotten worse since this book came out. Wilson's comically unfeasible plan is to give over half the planet to wildlife. Given the inability of the world's governments to agree on even the mildest steps to protect the environment, you can safely ignore this pompous, rambling book, whose Pulitzer seems a perfect example of futile virtue signalling.
Profile Image for Fred Rose.
508 reviews14 followers
March 27, 2016
E.O. Wilson is a great scientist and writer but this is not a very good book. He doesn't even get to his proposal (if you can call it that) for setting aside wildlife areas until 3/4 of the way through the book and it's so vague, it's hard to call it a plan, more of a plea. It's important stuff, no doubt, the more written about the 6th extinction, the better. It's as big a deal as climate change.
Profile Image for Ash.
357 reviews207 followers
March 12, 2016
Half-Earth is half distressing biology news, half Edward O. Wilson's love letter to species that are largely ignored by popular conservation because they aren't cute enough. Wilson is a natural biologist who studies ants, and his passion - especially for ants, particularly for bugs, and generally for any living creature - shines through every page of this book. I am a typical city dwelling nerd who hates little crawly things with too many legs, so it's completely foreign for me to imagine a teenage Wilson becoming so enthralled by trail of ants that he literally dedicated his life to them, but Wilson knows his interests are fringe even among the conservation minded so as much as he strays into ant-facts, he always manages to rope bug-haters like me back into the fold.

I don't have much of a science background, but Wilson largely did a good job explaining the concepts behind his theories. There were times when he ventured into ideas with a more mathematical basis (things like the percentage of biodiversity lost as related to the percentage of an environment that's been removed) that completely lost me because my math is not up to par; I would have gotten more out of this, I think, if I had a more throrough knowledge of geography and the different types of environments. Like: I get what a forest is; I do not have a specific image of an alpine forest. These are really my own failings that could have been fixed by using Google more while I was reading. He also lost me a bit talking about the differences between varieties of biologists. Anyway,the point is that even skimming over some of the specifics, I have a good understanding of the point Wilson set out to make.

And to be fair, that is because this book is very repetitive. It's divided into three sections, and I think I might have been better off reading the chapters from sections one and two as separate essays - a chapter every day or two, taken as a standalone. Insted I read this straight through which just highlighted the repetition; I don't think it was necessary for the reading experience (I do think that the final section should be read in one go; the previous chapters are about specific places and environments and what has been done to them, while the third focuses more on solutions/the future). On the other hand, I can't fault him too much for repetition; this man has probably spent a good majority of his life telling people that they're fucking everything up and need to stop, and so far they have not listened. He may as well repeat it several times per chapter, since clearly humanity at large is selectively choosing not to hear it.

The standout chapters for me were the ones that dealt with marine life / the ocean, but that's just my own preferences shining through, and the chapter where he polled other biologists about the places that they thought were very special and should be saved at all costs. And I did enjoy the third section, where he talks more about both his half-earth solution and about how better technology can improve both human life and conservation. He's also a big proponent of creating live feeds out of nature reserves which people can watch on the internet FROM HOME; I don't know why that's so surprising to me, since it makes sense that tourists shouldn't be tramping around in nature reserves, but it's nice to read something conservation themed that also celebrates technology and supports my desire to look at cute animals on the internet all day.

Anyway: I enjoyed this and although I feel like Wilson is screaming into the void a little bit, I do wish that more people would listen to what he has to say. This is so important.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
Author 5 books199 followers
January 21, 2018
This book is a terrific journey through the incredible biodiversity of our planet. Or at least what remains of our biodiversity. In this Anthropocene Age we live in, humans have sacrificed the earth's species on the altar of "economic development" and "freedom" and "the accumulation of material wealth." The result is a blind trip toward oblivion.

But for a few brief hours, I could enjoy the world's species and wild areas vicariously through the writing of Edward O. Wilson.

There are solutions presented here. The half-earth proposal means setting aside half the planet's land and seas in order to halt the accelerating extinction of biodiversity. When I realize that American voters actually went in to a private voting booth and clicked off the name Donald Trump, and many of those voters are still enabling him, and the organizations and individuals who supported him are still going strong with their supporters, I am not optimistic in the least.
Profile Image for Kobi.
165 reviews19 followers
January 5, 2019
Good, though I still feel like Kolbert's The 6th Extinction does the best job of conveying the severity and anomaly of what is happening to the climate in ways that people can grasp that doesn't come across as stilted or preachy xx
Profile Image for Trike.
1,399 reviews148 followers
January 9, 2019
This book is half terrifying and half tedious. Raising the alarm over the coming crash of biodiversity is all well and good, but when you sound like Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (“Something-dee-oh-oh economics. Voodoo economics.” https://youtu.be/AyyAh2lQXF8), it kind of undercuts the urgency. It doesn’t help that the text is completely unfocused and he wanders far off topic, even to the point of giving lists of various things repeatedly.

Worst of all, he never really explicitly states his solution beyond a vague idea about setting aside half the Earth as wild areas — essentially national parks — to preserve ecosystems and promote the necessary biodiversity.

Wilson wrote this in 2015, toward the end of Obama’s presidency, and seems to fall into the intellectual trap of believing that reasonable people will realize the issue at stake and therefore — obviously! — take steps to confront global warming. This is a weird thing that many ivory tower types do, and of all people I expected Wilson to at least recognize the real-world issues conservationists and other scientists face.

Yet he seems blind to the reality that the super-rich conservatives are bound and determined to pave over the planet in pursuit of squeezing the very last penny out of it before it dies. Surely Wilson paid attention to the Bush Jr. presidency, which was not just actively but aggressively anti-science. The W administration rewrote scientific papers to remove discussions of global warming. They not only fired but prosecuted scientists who researched climate change. Did he not see how pervasive that sentiment is?

I can forgive Wilson for not thinking in 2015 that Trump was going to be a credible candidate, nevermind become President. I thought the same thing right up until the 2016 election. And although technically I was correct — Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million — here we are. Trump hates Obama and has done everything he can over the last two years to erase Obama’s legacy. Aided by the extremist Republican Party controlling all of Congress and the Supreme Court, his anti-science, pro-business stance has been supercharged. The GOP on a state level had already done things like disallow the use of the phrases “global warming” and “climate change”, as in Florida, and in North Carolina legislated that scientists could not use modern models to determine coastal erosion and wetlands endangerment but rather had to use pre-World War I measurements. That was all just an outgrowth of Bush’s policies, which aggressively altered scientific reports to eliminate any mention of climate change, and even prosecuted the federal scientists who were researching it.

In the face of that, it’s clear that the few things Obama did to preserve the ecosystem were aberrations compared to business as usual in America. The US isn’t the only country, but we have an outsized presence. As the saying goes: when America sneezes, the world catches a cold.

I was also baffled that Wilson didn’t address agriculture, specifically animal farming. We already devote fully 1/3 of our arable land to feed and house livestock. We aren’t going to simply give up our bacon cheeseburgers and chicken nuggets to build parks, and any proposal that doesn’t tackle that issue is doomed.

When Wilson also said towards the end that business would find a solution, he struck me as hopelessly naive. There’s no inherent drive in capitalism towards preservation. It focuses on short-term profits, not long-term sustainability. Tomorrow’s problems belong to tomorrow’s boardroom. The entire system is geared that way.

I also have The Sixth Extinction in my TBR pile, so hopefully that one is better.
Profile Image for Charlene.
875 reviews484 followers
March 22, 2017
I hate to give E.O. Wilson anything less than 5 stars. However, his writing has really gone downhill, which makes me truly sad. The first book in this trilogy, Social Conquest of Earth, was great until the last chapter. He kept politics out of the whole book and then went on a rant about his political views. I actually agreed with those views but it was off-putting even to me. The rant came out of nowhere. If he had sprinkled his views throughout the book, as if they were not something he was trying to hide, it would not have felt to the reader like they were getting hit by a truck of political beliefs at the end of what was a truly fantastic book. The second book, Meaning of Life, showed that Wilson still excelled in gathering data and updating his views, but that it was a little more difficult for him to convey those views to a general audience. There was a marked difference in his writing from Book One to Book Two of the trilogy. This last book showed an even steeper decline in writing. Maybe it's just that he was too busy to write all three?

This is a shame because the deck is already stacked against Wilson, who is a brilliant scientist with important things to say. For example, with comments like, 'Just throw out Wilson's book. Don't even read it!," Dawkins has been on a campaign to destroy Wilson for years. This is infuriating, since Wilson has updated his understanding of science over the years, while Dawkins has treated science like a religion, refusing to accept any changes since the 1970s, despite the overwhelming evidence presented to him (e.g. epigenetics). However, even though Wilson's critical thinking and scientific investigation is holding up, his writing is not. This book tries to do great and worthwhile things, but it is a chore to read. It would probably be a very good idea for Wilson to collaborate on future books with a younger colleague who excels at writing for the general public. That was his ideas can still make their way to the public but they will be better organized and far more enjoyable to read.

This a 2 star book, but can't bring myself to give it less than 3.
195 reviews5 followers
April 2, 2016
There's a really interesting idea behind this book, but the book doesn't really explore it that well. If anyone's interested I can direct you to more compelling writing on the subject (including some by the author himself). If you want to know why I found the book frustrating, read my full review here!:

Profile Image for John.
402 reviews28 followers
May 31, 2016
An Impassioned Plea to Preserve Earth's Biodiversity from the Greatest Evolutionary Ecologist of Our Time

Noted evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson has written a polemic, but a polemic based on his life-long work in ant systematics and evolutionary ecology, that offers some glimmer of hope. This is a surprisingly terse book from Wilson, but one of sufficient length that it may serve as a rallying call to anyone who has some interest in conservation biology - which he should be viewed as its "godfather" - and a keen desire to preserve much of Earth's biodiversity for future generations of humanity. Divided into three sections, Wilson seeks to enlighten the reader on the nature of the problem, how this relates to Earth's current biodiversity, and then, a general overview on what should be done to preserve Earth's biodiversity. In the first section "Part I: The Problem", Wilson describes how and why current biodiversity losses should be seen as a "Sixth Extinction", equivalent in its severity with the five major mass extinctions known from the Phanerozoic Eon (approximately the last 543 million years of Earth's history). Those familiar with Elizabeth Kolbert's "The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural Hisotry" might regard Wilson's descriptive prose, repetitive, in its bleak picture of current biodiversity loss, but it is a picture well-informed by Wilson's own decades-long research in conservation biology and systematic zoology, especially of ants. In "Part II: The Real Living World", Wilson's enthusiastic eloquence is at its finest, as he describes vividly, ecosystems in the deepest parts of the world's oceans and even in the Earth's crust that are largely unknown to all, but the most informed readers familiar with relevant aspects of ecology, molecular biology and geology. He also identifies major ecological habitats on Earth that he regards as reclaimable, ranging from the Californian Redwood Forest to the Amazon River Basin, the flatlands of Northeastern Europe and the Congo Basin, to name but a few. In "Part III: The Solution" Wilson advocates for his "Half-Earth" biodiversity preservation plan, but it is a plan that may seem to many, an impassioned plea, instead of an extensive plan designed to preserve Earth's biodiversity in more or less its current form for centuries. He does note the ongoing digital revolution as a means of not only cataloging all of Earth's biodiversity but in providing us a future in which human civilization's "ecological footprint" will be greatly diminished via the development of new technologies that will not only stem the rapid declines in biodiversity loss but also antrhropogenic global warming. With "Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life", Edward O. Wilson may have written his valedictory address to the public in the hope of fostering greater public understanding and interest in the science behind studying and halting Earth's biodiversity loss. A valedictory address that should be read by a wide audience, not only here in the United States but also elsewhere around the globe, noteworthy for Wilson's superb prose and storytelling talent.
Profile Image for Fred Hughes.
717 reviews47 followers
February 7, 2017
An interesting if distopian view of the world. While the idea is right, the way the book rolls it out could have been handled better.

Still, we as humans are walking, if not running, towards our ultimate destiny and it is not pretty for us or the planet
Profile Image for BookishStitcher.
1,054 reviews44 followers
January 7, 2023
3.5 stars

This was a interesting read and the hand drawn field notes/illustrations.
Profile Image for Angie Boyter.
1,865 reviews48 followers
December 13, 2015
Half-Earth is Edward O. Wilson’s visionary conclusion to the trilogy he began in The Social Conquest of Earth and continued in The Meaning of Human Existence. In the first book, Wilson described his theory of human evolution (based on group rather than kin selection) and how it led to our domination of the biosphere. The Meaning of Human Existence presented a series of essays exploring more philosophically the question of why humans exist at all and whether we have a special destiny.
In Half-Earth Wilson addresses one consequence of the sovereignty of humanity on our planet: our responsibility to be stewards of the earth and its biodiversity, a responsibility that we have too long ignored. The first part of the book describes the importance of biodiversity and how extinction is accelerating due to man’s intrusions during the current “Anthropocene” epoch. The second part surveys the panorama of our living world, be it on the ground, beneath the sea, or too small to be seen. This section includes a (personal and subjective) list of the “best places in the biosphere” and describes in beautiful detail why we should want to save them. The list includes some well-known and unsurprising choices like California’s redwood forests but also lesser known areas like the Bialowieza Forest in Poland and Belarus, which contains, among other life forms, European bison and some of the largest oaks ever recorded.
The solution Wilson proposes in the last part of the book is straightforward: set aside half the surface of the earth into an inviolable natural reserve. This should protect at least 85 percent of species, more if the protected areas include the “hot spots” where the largest number of endangered species exist. This half-earth figure was not arbitrary but is based on a mathematical relation between habitat area and number of species that Wilson says is broadly accepted in the field of conservation biology. To me this was perhaps the most disappointing part of the book,though, because most readers will not be familiar with this relation. I wanted to know more about it and how it was determined, since it is interesting in itself and also is the basis for Wilson’s half-earth proposal. He goes on to describe the kinds of actions needed to reduce our ecological footprint and make it possible to preserve the half-earth.
This is a fascinating book full of scientific lore, history, and Wilson’s accounts of his own experiences in the field and is worth reading on that basis alone. More importantly, the diversity of life he portrays also serves as an inspiration to heed his call to arms: Do no further harm to the biosphere.

NOTE: I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,740 reviews279 followers
September 26, 2019
Wilson is a scientist and a long-time ardent proponent of saving our planet. He has deep concerns for our biosphere and advocates setting aside half the earth for the natural world. Wilson lays down solid evidence for his worries, and I came away from the book nodding my head in agreement.

My takeaways from Half-Earth:

Many scientists believe man has had such a profound impact on the planet that we should acknowledge the end of the Holocene Epoch and replace it with the Anthropocene, the Epoch of Man.

Apocalyptic extinctions are rare in the history of life, occurring only at about hundred-million year intervals. The planet usually required ten million years to recover from each. Our current peak of destruction initiated by humanity is often called the Sixth Extinction.

A census of biodiversity is currently in the process of being taken. It is believed that the total will be much higher than the two million species so far discovered.

Nothing causes the destruction of a biosphere as invasive species. It is generally believed that before the coming of humanity about two hundred thousand years ago, the rate of origin of new species per extinction of exiting species was about one species per million species per year. But, due to human activity, it is believed that currently the rate of extension overall is between a hundred and a thousand times higher than it originally was. The rate of extinction is rising in most parts of the world, with the preeminent sites of biodiversity loss being the tropical forests and coral reefs. If ninety percent of a forest is cut, about half of the species will soon disappear. Hawaii has been universally acknowledged as the extinction capital of the world.

Scientists use the acronym HIPPO for a quick list of our most ruinous activities: Habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, population growth, and overhunting.

Most experts agree that humanity has raised the concentration of greenhouse gasses, especially carbon dioxide and methane, to a dangerous level. Predictions for the future are generally agreed upon: historic heat records will become routine; severe storms and weather anomalies will be normal; the melting of the ice shields will accelerate; the sea levels will rise exponentially.

There are those who are considered Anthropocene optimists, who feel a human-centered world is a good thing and a desirable outcome.

A lot to think about.
Profile Image for Miriam.
106 reviews
May 5, 2017
Wilson schrijft fantastisch over de natuur en over de noodzaak tot natuurbehoud. Je zou meteen alles uit handen laten vallen en als bioloog veldwerk gaan doen. De eerste twee delen van het boek zijn dan ook geweldig. Het derde deel valt tegen. Hij legt nergens uit hoe zijn idee om de helft van de aarde tot natuurreservaat te maken, moet worden uitgevoerd. Iets met 'innovatie en inzet', jaja. 2.5 ster, nou ja, 3 sterren, omdat hij zo goed schrijft.
Profile Image for Key27.
6 reviews
May 19, 2020
This book contained an immense amount of ecological knowledge, perfect for any aspiring naturalist to know. It is an excellent read, that presented both local and global perspectives on ecological issues.
However, I did find that his grand statements about conservation didn’t actually provide a comprehensive plan. This book mostly offered interesting scientific facts, which isn’t a bad thing, but a bit more specificity towards his conservation strategy would’ve been nice.
Profile Image for Devero.
3,646 reviews
December 19, 2019
Wilson, grande vecchio della biologia, dell'ecologia e sognatore di un mondo migliore, ci dà la sua ricetta per un mondo migliore. Non sono sempre d'accordo con lui, ma probabilmente qui si applica la Prima Legge di Arthur C. Clarke, e quindi ha ragione lui.
Faremmo bene a dargli un poco più retta.
Profile Image for Mark.
405 reviews8 followers
January 30, 2018
This important and impassioned book by one of the great botanist-naturalist writers of our time is a stirring account of humanity’s impact on planet Earth. If we view humans as simply one of the millions of species that call Earth home, then mankind has negatively impacted earthly environments more than any other living species. Two important words the reader will learn from this book are biosphere (all the organisms alive in the world at any moment, which together form a thin spherical layer around the planet) and biodiversity (the total variation in organisms, past and present, up to and including the entire planet, when viewed as ecosystems, species comprising the ecosystems, and genes prescribing the traits of species).

Wilson structures his short book into three sections. In section 1, “The Problem,” he describes only a fraction of the myriad species that occupy the earth, namely, vertebrate animals and flowering plants, and how their accelerating extinction is driven almost entirely by human activity. Wilson points out, by the way, that this is the human impact on known species. Scientific estimates state that there are several million as-yet unknown species, and we have no idea of the damage being done to them. In “The Real Living World,” Wilson points out the inadequacy of current conservation efforts and, indeed, the misguided philosophies on which they are based. He also begins to lay the foundation of his half-earth solution by surveying world-renown experts in biodiversity and ecosystems on the best existing reserves sheltering species of plants, animals, and microorganisms.

Finally, in “The Solution,” Wilson eloquently lays out his bold and imaginative half-earth proposal to raise conservation efforts to a new level. Simply put, half-earth proposes that "half the area of Earth’s land and half the area of its seas are set aside to halt the accelerating extinction of biodiversity." Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Wilson argues that the problem we face cannot be solved in a piecemeal or fragmented way.

The first part of this book is somber and compelling; its urgent message hints at the death knell of biodiversity, and the image of Earth as a “planetary spaceship” of wall-to-wall people with no other species. However, the latter part is one of optimistic possibilities. A key element of Wilson’s half-earth solution derives from the “bnr” industries—biology, nanotechnology, and robotics—which will favor biodiversity and make it possible for the estimated ten billion people at the end of this century to live happily, while reducing humanity’s ecological footprint as well as its demands from Earth’s resources.

Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life completes a trilogy: the first two books in the series are The Social Conquest of Earth and The Meaning of Human Existence, both equally thought-provoking reads. I only have one argument with this current work: Wilson’s half-earth solution to halt the accelerating extinction of biodiversity is too vital, too critical to be a mere “proposal.” I believe it is compelling enough to be a human imperative!
Profile Image for David Antoš.
76 reviews18 followers
April 20, 2020
I very much wanted to love this book and ended up being very disappointed. 2 stars are perhaps too harsh but I really cannot find many good things about the book. Perhaps besides a few sentences from the last 20 pages.

E. O. Wilson's grand suggestion is that we must set aside roughly 50% of Earth's land as wilderness. Unfortunately, instead of starting with this premise and exploring how it can be achieved and what it would bring he never gets much beyond this vague statement. Which he even admits to be a catchy political tagline rather than a serious proposal.

Instead, the book contains loosely connected personal thoughts and memories and seemingly randomly selected natural facts that more often than not seem disconnected with the book's main idea. He also seems to be settling accounts with scientific opponents and he engages in some self-pity over the decline of his field of biology (superseded by microbiology etc).

I don't have major interest or education in biology. Yet I didn't find the book bringing almost any new perspective or idea that I haven't encountered before. That's an unforgivable disappointment from a prominent and highly achieved scientist.

In the book's conclusion, Wilson suggests that: 1. more efficient and clean energy generation, 2. GMO and synthetic biology, 3. artificial intelligence, 4. lesser need to travel due to virtual/augmented reality, 5. declining fertility rates will make the half-earth wilderness possible. That's something I 'common sense' intuited on my own. I hoped the book would elaborate on practical aspects of these trends in the world with uneven distribution of ecosystems, wealth and population, estimate how quickly we need and can get there and suggest policies and governance that could accelerate the trends. Wilson spends no time on such questions. Perhaps he should've partnered an economist (profession he dreads in an earlier chapter) to help him formulate the issues.

The Half-Earth slogan and its implications are attractive and potentially sound. I hope someone else will pick it up and write a better book on the same topic.
Profile Image for Dave.
256 reviews33 followers
May 20, 2017
The general message that we should dedicate at least half the land of this planet to wilderness is an important one. However, it's pretty shocking what conclusions E.O. Wilson draws from that premise. According to him we need not just more research into biology, which is crazy enough considering that lack of information is clearly not the problem, but also more progress in robotics, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and the ephemeralization of our gadgets (making them smaller and more efficient so we can do more with less). And not to worry because our free-market capitalist economy will supposedly favor the companies who make long-lasting and efficient products, even though that's the complete opposite of what's actually been happening. Rather than challenge economic growth he sees "extensive growth" being replaced by "intensive growth", which again basically means that people still buy tons of crap they don't need but the impact on the environment won't double every time that GDP does. Sorry but that is not gonna cut it. E.O. Wilson is just too firmly ensconced in the scientific crusade to accept the need for humility. The good things he has to say are contradicted by demanding that we poke and probe every little thing on the planet until we know how to control everything. It really makes no sense.
Profile Image for James.
295 reviews3 followers
January 21, 2019
Overall I like the ecological concept of reserving half of the earth non water surface to support the other half and to promote biodiversity. This book blended a lot of current conservation concepts however execution of all of these concepts for the full execution of the half earth concept seems unsustainable provided the growing population.

To throw another concept in that Edward Wilson did not think about is that society could build central population areas taller freeing up more of the land masses for conservation and food cultivation. By building centralized cities up and then apportioning a conserved quantity of land per population in that city, he may get the space needed to support a healthy earth. Can we get there as a society, yes. It may not be a carnivorous society and we may need to apportion 2 acres per person, but it is achievable. Just my 2 cents and thumbs up on this concept :)
Profile Image for Hunter McCleary.
374 reviews
April 27, 2016
I occasionally wonder if we are becoming a world of mono-cultures-- humans, roaches, corn, Norway rats, and beef cattle. Wilson's new book puts that fear in perspective. We know precious little about the diversity of our world and at the rate we are going millions of species of plants and animals will go extinct before we even know about them. The ultimate in ignorance is bliss.

Preserving diversity is the key to solving so many of our problems, be they political, scientific, cultural, etc. Some years ago the Savannah River Nuclear site opened up a fenced off contaminated area. No human had set foot in these thousands of acres for decades. Biologists were astonished at the health and diversity of the "contaminated area."

Wilson just has a wonderful way of describing the wonder and awe of discovery and what we will lose if humans do not get a handle on resource consumption and climate change. Go, EO!

Profile Image for Mark Valentine.
1,796 reviews18 followers
May 13, 2016
Based on the evidence, setting aside even more than half of our earth's area for preservation makes sense but I don't think corporate and national interests will allow this. Wilson's documentation of habitat lose, the rise of invasive species, pollution, over-population, and over-hunting indicates that we have very, very little time left.

When combined with methane and CO2 gas emissions, I believe that we need a frantic mobilization of resources now. I can only fault Wilson with one piece of naivete and that has to do with his assumption that AI and technology will save us from the coming extinctions. We have the resources now; even to signal that we should wait for some future salvation shows that a fly has fallen into his scientific ointment.
Profile Image for Michael Layden.
91 reviews8 followers
May 8, 2016
Deeply humbling book, I come away from it stunned about how little I know about the natural world. I realise I have only the vaguest knowledge about the stupendous, awesome, complex world we live in.
Living with the knowledge of the sixth extinction has been something I have been doing for many years but the shear love Edward Wilson has for all forms of life on this blue ball floating in space adds immensely to the feeling of horror.
It is a lot to digest, I've now ordered one of his earlier books.
This clearly meets my criteria for 5 stars, I learnt a great deal, it's beautifully and passionately written and I would definitely give it to others to read
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