The life and career of Dr. Thomas Lovejoy—who coined the term “biological diversity”—was dedicated to the protection of the planet. After Lovejoy obtained a bachelor’s degree and PhD from Yale, an interest in birds led him to the Amazon, a fateful decision. For over 40 years, he would study the adverse impact of deforestation and habitat fragmentation on rainforest ecology and biodiversity.
From Camp 41, a 620-square-mile research area near Manaus, Brazil, Lovejoy advocated the protection of biologically diverse forests as a tool to combat climate change. In a 2021 New York Times essay, Lovejoy and economist John Reid explained that our failure to protect forests “challenges all of our other climate efforts because unless forests remain standing, the world will never contain global warming.”
Lovejoy was a key contributor to the seminal Global 2000 Report to the President: Entering the 21st Century, a 1980 publication commissioned by President Jimmy Carter. In this report, Lovejoy accurately predicted that 20 percent of all species on Earth would be extinct by 2020, primarily due to habitat loss. As a countermeasure, he invented debt-for-nature swaps, a device that has channeled billions of dollars of funding toward environmental protection.
Despite his warnings, Lovejoy was an optimist. In a 2018 editorial in Science Advances, Lovejoy and climate scientist Dr. Lee Hannah wrote, “We still have tools and opportunities to effectively manage the living planet and its biodiversity for the benefit of humanity and all life on Earth.” We can only hope humankind will heed Lovejoy’s warnings and merit his faith in our capacity.