Thomas Lovejoy highlights challenges for conservation in the Amazon

According to the U.S. researcher, the region needs integrated planning and management that underscores the importance of climate change 

By Heitor Shimizu, in Washington, DC

Agência FAPESP —U.S. researcher Thomas Lovejoy, responsible for popularizing the term “biological diversity,” talked about the challenges for development and conservation in the Amazon region at the “FAPESP-U.S. Collaborative Research on the Amazon” symposium, organized by FAPESP in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, October 28-29, 2014, in Washington, DC.

“Looking forward, I think that one of the biggest challenges ever for sustainable development will be to move in the direction of integrated planning and management in the Amazon region,” said the George Mason University professor, who in 2012 was awarded the Blue Planet Prize, considered the “Environmental Nobel.”

“I’ve long been concerned about the Amazon region since I first went there in 1965, when our understanding of the region’s physical, chemical and biological systems was so narrow that it was thought that El Niño was a phenomenon limited to the eastern Pacific,” he said.

“Of course the Amazon region has always been an incredible repository of biological diversity, probably the largest on earth. And this is valuable in every possible way. But I also think that we need to think about the region as a basic library for the life sciences. Each species has extraordinary value and can represent a solution to any kind of problem,” Lovejoy said.

“The Amazon region represents the largest portion of the library of life sciences in the world, but it also represents other things. The researchers at this symposium have talked about the importance of the Amazon in climate in terms of both regional and global environment. I think a lot about how we can advance the notion of how to manage the Amazon as a system. This is a huge challenge because it is a system that involves eight different countries. That’s why planning and management needs to be integrated,” he said.

Lovejoy also pointed out that we cannot think about the challenges of preserving the Amazon region without taking into account the critical role played by global climate change. According to him, many still ignore this very real problem.

“When I think about how a lot of people regard global climate change, comparison to a hurricane come to mind. When a hurricane begins to form, it’s just a sort of depression somewhere out there in the Atlantic Ocean, and people who hear about it don’t pay much attention to it. Then it begins to strengthen and people see and hear more about it on television. And then, one morning, people look up and notice that the sky is a very strange color. Only then do they realize that something big is about to happen. From the global perspective, we find ourselves at the same point with regard to climate change. We can act quickly to try to limit it to something we can handle, or we can simply ignore it so it stays forever beyond our grasp,” Lovejoy said.

“My quixotic dream is to apply the lessons taught by the Amazon on a planetary scale. And these lessons can be summarized in the notion that the planet works not just as just a physical system, but as a physical and biological system. When this notion becomes more widespread, we can begin to see much more respectful interaction between humanity and nature. And the great thing about this is that everyone can contribute something. We don’t have to think about climate change as something no one can do anything about, because the fact is, we can do something about it,” he said.

Lovejoy also pointed out the role that FAPESP plays in supporting research on the Amazon region. “FAPESP is a great organization and the way it works represents an important and ongoing achievement for the state of São Paulo,” he said.