Norman Myers, who has died of dementia aged 85, was the scientist who first calculated that yearly, worldwide, an space of tropical rainforest the scale of England and Wales was burned, bulldozed or felled to ranch beef for US hamburgers.
That, greater than 40 years in the past, was not orthodoxy. Satellite tv for pc imagery over the following decade proved him proper. He additionally predicted – and defined his reasoning, in his second e book, The Sinking Ark (1979) – that species had been being extinguished on the fee of 1 a day, slightly than the accepted determine of 1 a yr. This too was challenged, and later Myers conceded he had been incorrect; he ought to have mentioned 50 species a day.
By then he had launched a profession as an environmental guide, finally to advise the White Home, United Nations companies, the World Financial institution, the European fee, governments, charitable foundations and the UN intergovernmental panel on local weather change.
He was one in every of a gaggle of scientists that endorsed the argument, first made in 1983, that in any chilly battle nuclear change, there could possibly be neither winners nor even many survivors: the soot and particles from incinerated cities would keep within the stratosphere, display out daylight and plunge the planet right into a nuclear winter, decreasing humankind by hunger.
He predicted the explosion of environmental refugees, pushed from their houses by the million by local weather disaster, pure catastrophe, erosion, drought and different human adjustments to the planet. Myers was one of many prophets of the Anthropocene – the epoch of human domination of the complete planet – lengthy earlier than anybody had coined the time period.
His early predictions typically initially provoked bitter argument, however would quickly be backed by different outspoken greats of conservation biology, amongst them Edward O Wilson and Paul Ehrlich within the US, and eventually be embraced as orthodoxy. One other pioneer environmental scientist, Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Gardens, as soon as informed me: “I don’t suppose Norman’s been severely incorrect on something.”
By the shut of his profession, Time journal had named Myers one in every of its Heroes of the Setting, the UN Setting Programme had listed him in its World 500 Roll of Honour, and the British authorities in 1998 had made him a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG). He had been lauded with distinguished or visiting professorships at – amongst different universities – Oxford, Cornell, Vermont, Cape City and Utrecht, and fellowships in Washington, Tokyo, Canada, India and Japan.
He had by then delivered 300 skilled or scientific analysis papers and nearly 20 books, which bought greater than 1,000,000 copies in a dozen languages. For a few years he contributed to the Guardian’s science pages. He was launched worldwide as Professor Norman Myers of Oxford, though paradoxically, for a lot of his life, his reference to Oxford was that he had studied French and German poets at Keble School, and lived in Headington, simply exterior the town.
He was born at Larger Lees farm at Whitewell, close to Clitheroe, in Lancashire to John Myers, a farmer, and Gladys (nee Haworth), a instructor, in a home, Norman would keep in mind “with no electrical energy or fuel” and water from a stream shared with the cows. He went to Clitheroe grammar college, started nationwide service as a gunner within the Royal Artillery earlier than being discharged after an harm, and took a level in fashionable languages at Oxford.
In 1958 he joined the Colonial Service and was posted to Kenya, and finally to the Masai tribal area, as a district officer. He realized each Swahili and Masai, fell in love with Africa, and stayed on after independence to grow to be a Kenyan citizen, a schoolteacher after which an expert photographer, particularly of wildlife.
“It might imply days of sitting in my Land Rover by a waterhole ready for the damned lion to leap on board a zebra and this could give me numerous time to learn books and scientific papers about what makes a lioness tick,” he informed me. “Then I started to get thinking about species typically.”
His monitor report was uncommon: the spoor of a trailblazer slightly than a profession scientist. He accomplished a doctorate in conservation and growth on the College of California at Berkeley in 1973, and returned to Kenya to start surveys of cheetah and leopard numbers. He had already heard that conservationists calculated extinction charges at one species a yr, however these had been at all times well-observed birds or mammals.
“And I believed what about all of the creepy-crawlies? And got here up with a determine of 1 a day. After which I obtained within the tropical forests as a result of they comprise extra species and are being depleted quicker,” he informed me.
He returned to Britain, and to British citizenship, within the early 1980s, settled in Headington and continued to introduce – more and more with colleagues – new occupied with conservation and growth. He recognized, as an illustration, the conservation alternative of the “biodiversity hotspot” arguing that maybe one third of all of the planet’s dwelling issues had been to be present in 25 “hotspots” that added as much as simply 1.4% of the Earth’s land floor.
He pushed for clearer understanding of the financial worth of untamed issues and their genetic worth as sources of latest prescribed drugs, pure pesticides and meals, and he challenged the perverse position of presidency subsidies that broken each the setting and the economic system.
He was an enthusiastic marathon runner, and as soon as held – briefly – the report for operating to the summit of Kilimanjaro and down once more, a distance of 36 miles and a climb of greater than 13,000ft, in 13 hours and 20 minutes. He appreciated to take Cicero and Virgil in Latin on safari, and loved Racine, Balzac, Proust and Goethe in French and German.
In 1965 he married Dorothy Halliman. They separated in 1993 and divorced in 2012.
He’s survived by their two daughters, Malindi and Mara, and two grandchildren, Juliette and Alexander.
• Norman Myers, environmentalist, born 24 August 1934; died 20 October 2019