By Frank Gallagher
In the closing days of 2020, the world lost a number of giants, among which were Archbishop Desmond Tutu, naturalist and author Edward O. Wilson, and ecologist and conservation biologist Thomas E. Lovejoy III. Wilson and Lovejoy massively influenced our understanding of the world around us and their work was profoundly important to conservation and biodiversity. Dr. Lovejoy was also an honorary member of the Board of Trustees of the NANPA Foundation, alongside Jane Goodall and Dewitt Jones. He was recruited by Jane Kinne in the early 2000s, recalls Foundation President John Nuhn.
Dr. Lovejoy passed away on Christmas Day, age 80, according to his daughter, leaving behind a long legacy of accomplishments, innovations, and research.
He introduced the term “biological diversity,” which E. O. Wilson would subsequently shorten to “biodiversity.” Back in 1980 he made the first projection of global extinction rates and came up with the idea of forgiving part of a nation’s foreign debt in return for that country undertaking conservation projects, later popularized as “debt-for-conservation swaps.”
Lovejoy was involved in the creation of the long-running public television series “Nature,” in 1982. He worked for the World Wildlife Fund, Smithsonian Institution, World Bank, and was the director of the Institute for a Sustainable Earth, and the Amazon Biodiversity Center at George Mason University. He was particularly concerned about the future of the Amazon region and established a research station near Manaus, Brazil, to which many senators, congressmen and journalists traveled for tours and briefings. In addition, he served as a science advisor to several U. S. presidents and frequently testified before Congress.
Foundation Trustee Mary Ann McDonald said “Joe and I were mourning the loss of E.O. Wilson yesterday since we have many of his books. Dr. Lovejoy was an amazing conservationist whom we have quoted several times. Our world is a sadder place with the loss of both of these giants.” Trustee Marcia Mueller added “[t]he planet has lost 2 giants who spoke out for Nature. They leave an astonishing legacy. We can honor them by continuing to share their message.”
As the Washington Post put it, “Dr. Lovejoy was considered one of the most consequential conservation biologists of his generation for his ability to meld field research — on how fragmented forests deplete diversity and how they can store carbon if protected — with environmental and policy work to draw attention to the plight of the Amazon, the world’s largest and most diverse rainforest.”
Nuhn said “Dr. Lovejoy was quite well-known in government and NGO circles. The foundation has always been grateful to him for lending his name to our cause.”
Learn more about the NANPA Foundation and its work.