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The case for protecting half the Earth in its natural condition

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

E.O. Wilson wants to finish what Carl Linnaeus started 300 years ago: cataloguing and naming all of Earth's species.

But we're only 20% of the way there, and he warns that if we fail to put half of Earth in nature preserves we will doom species — known and unknown. Our era, he says, could be remembered more for destroying Earth's biological diversity than for technological advances.

Why he matters: Wilson - whose expertise is ants - has become the planet's conscience when it comes to biodiversity. In the early 1960s, he and his colleague Robert MacArthur mathematically described how islands could maintain a greater number of diverse species. That idea was the foundation for more exact planning of nature reserves, which he describes as islands in a sea of land, that are now a tenet of global conservation efforts.

I talked with Wilson about his idea to preserve half of Earth, whether biotechnology can save the planet's biodiversity and more. Excerpts from the interview are below.