Protecting Half Without Going Hungry

Originally published in Nature Sustainability August 15, 2018

Photo by Van Ngoc Tang/La Pán Tẩn, Vietnam

How to conserve half the planet without going hungry

By Zia Mehrabi, Erle C. Ellis And Navin Ramankutty

Every day there are roughly 386,000 new mouths to feed, and in that same 24 hours, scientists estimate between one and 100 species will go extinct. That’s it. Lost forever.

To deal with the biodiversity crisis we need to find a way to give nature more space—habitat loss is a key factor driving these extinctions. But how would this affect our food supplies?

New research, published in Nature Sustainability, found it could mean we lose a lot of food —but exactly how much really depends on how we choose to give nature that space. Doing it right could mean rethinking how we do agriculture and conservation altogether.

A fair deal

OK, but how much space are we talking about here?

There have been numbers flying around since the early 1990s. Some researchers say a quarter of all the space on earth, while others say three-quarters of all land and sea. Those in the middle ground, however, seem to suggest one half.

Leading scientists are increasingly endorsing the figure, including natural scientist E.O. Wilson, who wrote a book on it, and the former chief scientist at the World Wildlife Fund, Eric Dinerstein. These individuals are mobilizing funds, researchers, computing power and social capital to see what it takes to achieve this vision —through their organizations, The Half-Earth Project and Nature Needs Half.

The idea might seem crazy, but then again, maybe we need crazy ideas to get us to think about the better world we might be able to create.

And there is something about handing over half of the planet to nature that has an air of fairness to it —well, on the side of nature at least.

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