British scientist Norman Myers, credited as one of the world’s leading environmental analysts, died at the age of 85. Myers’ legacy stands as a reminder that research is a vital tool for environmental advocates and activists and for making change.
Considered the founder of the British environmental movement, Myers’ findings introduced new concepts into the movement including a definition for environmental refugees, the concept of biodiversity hotspots, and calculations for rainforest burning caused by beef production.
Myers’s work throughout his life includes 18 books and more than 250 scientific papers that contained critical information for making the case for environmental protection, including the estimate that every year, an area of tropical rainforest the size of England and Wales was burned, bulldozed, or felled for cattle ranching and beef production. Despite widespread criticism of this estimate, satellite imagery over the next 10 years proved this statement correct.
As a leader in research about biodiversity, Myers also identified biodiversity hotspots: 25 locations around the world, making up 1.4 percent of the Earth’s land surface, which hosts nearly one-third of all the planet’s living things.
Of Myers’s findings, only one had been successfully challenged: in his book The Sinking Ark (1979), Myers claimed one species a day went extinct, challenging the accepted figure of one species per year. Myers acknowledged he had been wrong, but that nearly 50 species a day go extinct.
Myers also predicted and gave recognition to a rising wave of environmental refugees—people driven from their homes by climate change, severe weather, natural disasters, and other environmental changes caused by mankind.
In addition to his contributions to academia and research, Myers served as a consultant to several United Nations agencies, the World Bank, European political leaders, the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, and the European Commission. In 2007, Time magazine recognized Myers as one of the Heroes of the Environment and the U.N. Environment Program listed Myers in its Global 500 Roll of Honor.