Vance G Martin, President, The WILD Foundation

Imagine our planet shared equally and equitably by people and nature, a world in which nature has ample space to exist and evolve, and people enjoy a healthy lifestyle that allows such a world to thrive. The values in this society are based on reciprocity, or partnership, between humankind and nature, rather than a world based on a one-way system, from natural storehouse to human well-being to the landfill.

Welcome to Nature Needs Half (NNH), both a vision and a common-sense, practical approach to living on an increasingly crowded planet. NNH is based on state-of-the-art scientific analysis and time-tested traditional knowledge and wisdom. Its goal is to ensure that enough wild areas of land and water are protected and interconnected (usually at least about half of any given eco-region) to maintain nature’s life-supporting systems and the diversity of life on Earth, to support human health and prosperity, and to secure a bountiful, beautiful legacy of resilient, wild nature. NNH requires a shift in our thinking -- to recognize that we are part of nature, not separate from it.

The size of a natural area is directly linked to its ability to maintain high-functioning, biological processes. Depending on the type and location of the specific ecosystem or area of land or water, this threshold is roughly half of the original, pre-industrial extent. Below this threshold, nature struggles to provide life-support, or ‘ecological services’ such as clean air and water, climate control, temperature moderation, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, recreational areas, and more.

But it’s not only about science, as important as that may be. Other values help frame our thoughts and inform our actions. Traditional cultures around the world are based on an ethic of reciprocity, of respecting and giving back to the Earth that supports us. In more formal religious teachings -- such as Buddhism, The Society of Friends (Quakers), and others – a guiding principle is that of ‘Right Relationship’, through which one aligns personal behaviour to honour all life. NNH is advocate for both science and reciprocity.

How do we protect and interconnect half of the Earth’s lands and seas? The good news is that Nature Needs Half is as achievable as it is necessary; examples of a, ‘NNH world’ abound. It’s a global vision that can be achieved locally, at all scales.

For big scale, look at North America. One of the oldest practical projects is the Yellowstone to Yukon project (Y2Y), where a diverse team of conservationists, ranchers, planners, and wildlife lovers are stitching together a massive ecological corridor from the southern edge of the Yellowstone region in Northwest Wyoming, right up to the Northern Yukon. In the south-eastern corner of the US, Nokuse Plantation is the biggest private preserve and the core area of the biggest restoration project east of the Mississippi. Driven by MC Davis, a private businessman, this ambitious project aims to create a 160-mile, east-west corridor of ‘rewilded’ long-leaf pine habitat. Across Canada’s boreal north, one of the greatest forests in the world is the subject of both the highly-destructive tar sands petroleum production operation of the Canadian government, and also the location of major conservation efforts by a wide range of protagonists. First Nations are active in creating huge parks, such as the Nahanni National Park, expanded a few years ago to now be one of the largest national parks in the world, at over 30,050km2. Further east, the Quebec Government just announced its intention to protect 50% of its northern boreal forest, some 600,000km2.

Large land- and seascapes are critical to our future, but one of the strengths of Nature Needs Half is that it can be applied at all scales, in any jurisdiction, and under any ownership regime. Boulder County, northwest of Denver, is 62% protected; the municipality of Hong Kong is 42% protected (believe it or not!); the nation of Bhutan is 52% protected and connected; the Pacific Oceanscape is a consortium of 15 Island Nations protecting 40 million square kilometres of South Pacific oceans. And it goes on.

Nature Needs Half is not alone, with similar initiatives emerging to form a movement. The esteemed biologist at Harvard, Professor E O Wilson, has endorsed the idea for many years, and is currently consolidating it as Half Earth. The Zoological Society of London’s programme is called Space for Nature.

Nothing less than bold vision and committed action at all levels is the formula to turn around the juggernaut of ill-conceived and/or poorly implemented human development. Nature Needs Half is a simple and direct truth… we can live with the Earth much better than we can live on it.