With the death of Tom Lovejoy, Brazil loses one of its best friends. Over 57 years, much of his life was dedicated to researching and defending the Brazilian Amazon, for which he became a prominent world spokesman.
For decades, he took personalities from the US and abroad to his research post in the forest on excursions that included New Year’s Eve. In Washington, being invited to one was considered an honor among celebrities.
For many of them, like Al Gore, then a senator, then a US vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, the experience was like an epiphany. Great journalists, film actors, politicians, authorities and diplomats redid their ideas about the environment after these visits promoted by Lovejoy.
In his 18th century home in Virginia, near Washington, he held meetings with politicians, environmentalists, Brazilian and American academics to discuss the direction of Brazil, especially in the field of ecology.
Respected as one of the most important scientists in the field of biology (in 2012 he received the Blue Planet award, considered equivalent to the Nobel in the field of the environment), he coined the concept of biodiversity and was one of the first to defend the idea of using credits from carbon to protect forests.
As relevant (or more) than his academic work, was what he did as a promoter of the conservationist cause. For 14 years in the 1970s and 1980s, he helped transform the World Wildlife Fund into one of the most important entities of its kind in the world.
He was an environmental advisor to Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush and Bill Clinton, and informally advised Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden. He was one of the creators of the series of programs “Nature” on American public television, collaborated with National Geographic magazine.
He worked at the World Bank, at the Inter-American Development Bank, at the United Nations Foundation, always helping these institutions to take decisions on environmental issues.
It was as present in academic publications as in those of general interest. In Brazil, the vehicle in which most articles were edited was this leaf (the last, entitled “Reflorestar a Amazônia”, in co-authorship with André Guimarães, director of Ipam, came out on September 16th).
His most recent outstanding scientific article was also written in partnership with a Brazilian, Carlos Nobre, from Inpa, in the magazine “Science Advances”, in February 2018, under the title “Amazon Tipping Point”, and it contains a warning that deforestation in the Amazon is close to reaching the point of no return if drastic and urgent measures are not taken to stop it.
In August of this year, Lovejoy informed friends that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer but that, according to his oncologist, it was a type that could be treated with hormones and that he still had “many years to go”.
“I’m fine with 90% of my normal energy and busy as usual,” he said at the end of the message. In fact, it produced a lot in the following months. He finished an as-yet-unpublished book (“Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Planet”), with John Reid, an economist at Nia Tero, which helps indigenous groups protect and sustainably exploit their territories.”
On November 2, The New York Times featured an article by Lovejoy and Reid entitled “The Road to Climate Recovery Goes Through the Wild Woods.”
Lovejoy died on Christmas Day, aged 80, in Washington.