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Saving ‘half of Earth’ to save humanity

On the occasion of the Half Earth Day, a look at what E.O. Wilson Foundation is doing to save the global biodiversity, and how organizations like Esri are contributing to the cause.

Half Earth Day
Conserving half of Earth will provide sufficient habitat to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity through deep research, education and engagement in nature through the Half Earth Project

It’s not easy to assess the extent of damage that will be caused by natural calamities in the future. According to a new report by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), seven million people have been displaced globally due to natural disasters from January to June this year. This number is estimated to more than triple by the end of the year to around 22 million. These numbers suggest that we are staring at a kind of devastation that will be unparalleled and need to take corrective actions to minimize the loss to the humanity. But what do we do? Perhaps the answer lies in saving half of the Earth.

In order to save our planet’s rich biodiversity, we need to set aside at least half of the Earth’s land and sea for preservation, feels E.O. Wilson, a naturalist and biologist who is behind the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation’s Half-Earth Day, which is being observed today at UC Berkeley. The annual event explores how conservationists around the world can achieve this goal. Wilson believes that conserving half of Earth will provide sufficient habitat to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity through deep research, education and engagement in nature through the Half Earth Project.

ALSO WATCH: E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation: E.O. Wilson

Power of maps

Supporting the foundation in this crucial project is Esri, which is mapping global species distribution at an unprecedented level of detail to put together information that can be used to identify conservation management priorities. Esri has built a visual mapping tool that decision-makers can use to help safeguard biodiversity. “I first got in touch with their visuality team this past spring. I am based in Michigan and their team is in Madrid, so we would meet via web conferencing. It was wonderful, really; they have a sense of optimistic energy and I sensed that they were excited about this project and what it meant,” says Esri cartographer John Nelson, who has been involved with the foundation and has built vibrant basemaps to readily identify different ecological zones. 

Half Earth Project
The interactive map created by Esri allows users to explore species populations, human pressures on those species and current conservation protections around the globe

The interactive map allows users to explore species populations, human pressures on those species and current conservation protections around the globe. “My contribution to the project was to create basemaps for two 3D globe experiences. The first globe’s goal is to show our shared world as something charming and beautiful, something that would evoke a sense of protection. The second globe experience is intended as a data exploration and delivery platform. As such we created a basemap that is composed primarily of dark desaturated imagery, to best support the rich and vibrant data combinations that live atop,” adds Nelson.

Fortunately for the cartographer, a team of scientists at Esri had recently produced and published a map of the world’s ecosystem structure in great detail. “By blending a highly color-saturated version of this map with satellite imagery, we were able to make a vibrant basemap derived from scientific sources and appealing to a wide audience. I think it came out beautifully and compliments the globe’s purpose of a highly visual tour of unique and valuable places in the biosphere,” tells Nelson, elaborating on the preparation of the first basemap. The two globe experiences, while wearing starkly different visual designs, work together to support a two-part goal of exploration and understanding.

GIS and disaster conservation

Be it infrastructure planning or disaster response, GIS is directly connected to the activities around our environment. According to Nelson, GIS and environment conservation can’t be decoupled. “They are so interconnected. GIS has its roots in natural resource management. In the near future, I think the bonkers pipeline of precise and fresh data from satellites and devices will feed into an ever more capable set of tools that will help us get to the bottom of important questions. So, the importance of engaging visual communication in the form of cartography and storytelling grows right alongside the technology,” he says.

The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation is working with a host of data partners to feed into a growing curated model of diversity, risk and opportunity. Nelson feels that the foundation has partnered with Esri to present that landscape of biodiversity. Esri’s ArcGIS Pro was used to design the basemap cartography, which is presented within the ArcGIS API for JavaScript to create virtual 3D scenes available in the browser.

In a video featuring E.O. Wilson talking about the Half Earth Project, the veteran naturalist says that to understand why forests and jungles are so important for humanity, we must think about the oxygen we breathe. “If half of the globe is put aside for preservation, it could save 85% of the species. Learning what species are there and where they are in the world is the key,” he says. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to start learning.

Also Read: Nature Map Earth to help governments operationalize targets for biodiversity conservation and restoration