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A 'special' honor for Mason's Tom Lovejoy

September 23, 2016

Tom Lovejoy is known as the "Godfather" of biodiversity.

Tom Lovejoy has been honored numerous times during his 52-year career as a conservation biologist. But even for this world-renowned scientist known as the “Godfather” of biodiversity, a lifetime achievement award from the National Council for Science and the Environment is special.

“What’s special is that this is not just about the environment. It’s not just about science,” said Lovejoy, who holds the biodiversity chair at George Mason University’s Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. “It’s about scientists who care significantly about the impact of humans on the environment and what might be done to make it a better picture.”

“Dr. Lovejoy has dedicated his life to advancing and applying science to advance work in biodiversity and climate change,” said Michelle Wyman, NCSE’s executive director. “NCSE is honored to recognize Dr. Lovejoy … for his contributions to environment and health.”

Lovejoy, 75, will be honored on Jan. 25, 2017, at the NCSE’s National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Crystal City, Va.

The founder of the public television series “Nature,” Lovejoy has worked in the Brazilian Amazon since 1965. In the 1970s, he helped bring attention to the issue of tropical deforestation, and in 1980, he published the first estimate of global extinction rates.

His 37-year Amazon project, called “the greatest ecology experiment of all time” by noted Duke University biologist Stuart Pimm, documents how deforestation harms adjacent intact forests. Lovejoy also coined the term “biodiversity.”

He joined George Mason in 2010, and teaches a class, Challenges in Diversity, during the spring semester.

When he asked if he still had passion for his work, Lovejoy said, “I get up every morning thinking, ‘What can I do today?’ ”

Most dominant in his mind, he said, “is actually trying to restore degraded ecosystems, not only because of what that will do with biodiversity but also what it will do in taking CO2 out of the atmosphere before it traps radiant heat. It’s about trying to recognize the planet works as a linked biological and physical system, that it’s a living planet, and managing it that way.”