Photograph by Dylan Coulter
Photograph by Dylan Coulter

‘There Are Things We Can Do’ About Climate Change

Conservationist Thomas Lovejoy wants us to be more frugal in the present—and upset about the future.

Biologist and conservationist Thomas Lovejoy has been working in the Amazon rain forest for 50 years. He coined the term “biological diversity” in 1980, the same year he projected that by the early 21st century the world would lose a dramatic number of species. But Lovejoy, now 74, is still optimistic about protecting the planet. And he has ideas.

Boil it down. What’s the top environmental challenge?

It’s a combination of people and their aspirations. If the aspirations are more like the frugal ones we had after the Second World War, a lot more is possible than if we view the planet as a giant shopping mall, which doesn’t work biologically. We need to get beyond the fascination with the glitter and understand that the planet works as a biological system. Reducing our expectations is very much in our own interest.

You’re in a room with the leaders of China, India, and the United States. What would you tell them?

I’d say we all have an interest in fixing this before it gets badly out of hand, and it’s getting close to that. There are things we can do together. There are energy and innovation possibilities. There are biological solutions that would benefit everyone. India could offset all of its current emissions through ecosystem restoration. All those countries have a combined interest in a major international effort at restoration, and there are benefits from working on it together.

What’s the future of the environmental movement?

I see a lot of new leaders coming up, although not as many as I’d like from a diversity perspective. We need to get young people upset about their future. We need to give them a sense they can make a difference. Because they’re going to live with it.

Thomas Lovejoy feels that we need to adjust our aspirations when it comes to environmental challenges. What do you think is the world's top environmental challenge? Let us know—and also tell us who you'd like to see in 3 Questions—in the comments.