YSE mourns environmentalist Thomas Lovejoy: ‘An incredible role model’

YSE Community Mourns Loss of Renowned Conservation Biologist Thomas E. Lovejoy ’63 BA, ’71 PhD. Senior Researcher at the United Nations Foundation, Lovejoy’s field research on the Amazon, the invention of “debt for nature” swaps, the promotion of the term “biological diversity” and the commitment to draw attention to the rate of extinction, have put it at the forefront of some of the most important issues facing humanity in the 20and and 21st centuries. Lovejoy, who created the public television series “Nature”, brought the world’s attention to the disastrous consequences of forest fragmentation and the need to preserve forests, wildlife and carbon-storing ecosystems. Lovejoy studied biology at Yale and was an assistant at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, a member of the advisory board of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, and a longtime member of the YSE Leadership Council.

He has served as Chief Environmental Biodiversity Advisor for the World Bank, Associate Secretary at the Smithsonian Institute, and Executive Vice President of the World Wildlife Fund. He died in December at his home in Virginia.

‘Tom was an incredible role model. He was an academic who was making a real impact not only advancing – even creating a field – but also working in complex diplomacy with governments to advance conservation and reduce deforestation’ ‘, said Dean Indy Burke. “He believed with all his heart that each of us could make a difference with our science and with our diplomatic and empathetic advocacy. He was an eternal optimist despite what he witnessed. I will always remember his elven smile.

Oastler Professor of Population and Community Ecology at YSE Os Schmitz said that while the results of Lovejoy’s research were sobering, he was never discouraged.

“Tom Lovejoy was that rare breed of scientist with multiple abilities. He not only had the ability for deep technical scientific thinking and analysis, but also the ability to step back and distill that technical knowledge in ways that helped to solving environmental problems,” said Schmitz. “He was a genuine and caring colleague, and an excellent mentor to young scientists aspiring to take on their own careers at the crossroads of scientific research and application. our world a better place to live.

Below, Alexander Brash ’85 MFS, pays tribute to his lifelong friend and colleague.

I first met Thomas Lovejoy when I interviewed him in late 1980, after being introduced by another longtime NYC Linnaean Society member, Roger Pasquier. Like Tom, I was originally from New York and had fallen in love with the birds of Jamaica Bay and Central Park. We both laughed when we met when we realized we were wearing identical blue suits from Brooks Brothers. First impressions count and I was hired.

Tom has transcended his ornithological interests to become one of the most renowned conservationists of our time. He was interested in birds from childhood, but when he went to Millbrook School in New York, near the Hudson River, his wider intellectual curiosity for the biotic world was awakened. After Millbrook he went to Yale and worked at the Peabody Museum. He wandered for a year to study the birds along the Nile. After graduating in 1964, he stayed to continue his education. He traveled to the Amazon to research migratory birds and fell in love with its magnificent flora and fauna. He then focused on resident avian species and pioneered mist nets in the forest canopy of the Amazon. He received his doctorate from Yale in 1971 after studying the mathematics of diversity. At Yale, Tom also became quite close to Professor G. Evelyn Hutchinson who is widely regarded as the father of modern ecology. Hutchinson built on Charles Elton’s idea of ​​an ecological niche, refining it further as “a highly abstract multidimensional hyperspace” and was also an early proponent of the idea that an increase in carbon dioxide of carbon would lead to an increase in global temperature.

After earning his doctorate, Tom moved to Washington, DC to work in conservation. Throughout his career, Tom has been a leading proponent of three key issues that he has brought to the world’s attention: biological diversity, the disastrous consequences of tropical deforestation, and climate change. He coined the term biological diversity, which he shortened to biodiversity.

He became vice president of science at the World Wildlife Fund – USA, where he provided scientific reviews and recommendations on projects being funded. Among many others, Tom has been a strong supporter of Russell Mittermeier’s primate work and Anne LaBastille’s efforts to protect and restore Lake Atitlan Grebe. While at WWF, Tom launched his incredibly ambitious Minimum Critical Ecosystem Size Project, perhaps the largest ever study of forest fragmentation. He has worked with the Brazilian government and local ranchers near Manaus to preserve 1, 10 and 100 hectare forest patches isolated by surrounding pastures. He simultaneously raised funds to bring a host of scientists and students to the region and helped train a generation of Brazilian biologists.

Tom wrote tirelessly and spoke frequently; throughout his career he edited 10 books and authored or co-authored 321 articles and was DC’s curatorial host of choice Almost every week when he was not in Brazil or traveling, Tom would host splendid but low-key dinners for visiting scientists at his home, called Drover’s Rest, in McLean, Virginia. EO Wilson, Paul Ehrlich, Jared Diamond, George Woodwell, Jane Lubchenco and many others were his guests. Indeed, it was late one night in the early 1980s when Tom’s attention to climate change was rekindled. George Woodwell, founder of the Woodwell Climate Research Center (formerly known as Woods Hole Research Center) shared a graph of rising global atmospheric carbon levels. Remembering Evelyn’s work, Tom quickly began to promote awareness of the ecological consequences.

Tom was a great admirer and close friend of Yale professor and ornithologist Dillon Ripley, who later served as secretary of the Smithsonian Institute. After WWF, Tom also worked there, serving as Assistant Secretary for the Environment from 1987 to 1994. In 2002, he became President of the H. John Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment. In recent years he has been a professor at George Mason University, lecturing on biodiversity.

Tom remained an inveterate Yalie all his life. He became closely involved with the Yale School of the Environment and later chaired the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, known as Biosphere 2. He frequently hired or engaged Yalies in his work.

Even amidst all of his research, fundraising, and tentacles of bureaucracy, he still managed with his effervescent joy and aplomb to bring influential and politically connected people to the Amazon to voice his issues, including Walter Cronkite, Tom Cruise, Ben Bradlee and Al Gore. Tom has always danced on the border between politics and science, even coining the notion of debt-for-nature swaps in the 1980s, as a way for wealthy countries to fund nature reserves in developing countries – an idea which has been revisited in the form of carbon tax credits. Not surprisingly, over the years Tom has received considerable accolades, including election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the US National Academy of Science. He also received the USC Tyler Award for Environmental Achievement and the Blue Planet Award.

Tom talked tirelessly about the issues important to him. Always seeking to reach a wider audience, he put his charm to good use. I will always think of him as Mother Nature’s elf on Earth; always smiling, self-deprecating, witty, welcoming and immensely brilliant.

Rebecca R. Santistevan