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New Conservation Science Is Misguided and Too Much About the Major Problem -- Us

02/23/2015 03:31 pm ET | Updated Apr 25, 2015

Doing conservation "in the name of us" is narrow-minded, short-sighted and misguided.

A recent essay published in the Huffington Post by noted scientist and ethicist John Vucetich and his colleagues called "Should We Conserve Nature for Nature's Sake, or for Our Own?" centers on different views of where the focus of conservation biology and conservation science should lie. It's a brief summary of another excellent essay authored by Dr. Vucetich and his colleagues Jeremy Bruskotter and Michael Nelson with the more "academic" title, "Evaluating whether nature's intrinsic value is an axiom of or anathema to conservation," just published in the prestigious journal called Conservation Biology.

When I read these two essays I felt a glimmer of hope in countering other views on why we should value and conserve nature. Because both essays are readily available to interested parties my purpose here is to call attention to them because they are must reads for anyone who is interested in what we are doing and allow to be done to our magnificent planet "in the name of conservation."

Professor Vucetich and his colleagues, along with many other scientists, take a strong stance against an emerging group of conservation biologists who argue for what is called The "New Conservation Science" (NCS), a very narrow-minded and short-sighted view that advocates protecting environments and doing conservation "in the name of humans." Oxford University animal welfarist Professor Marian Dawkins likewise argues that we should value other animals for what they can do for us -- their instrumental value -- and that we should appeal "to people's self-interests" (please see "Why Animals Really Matter"). Anthropocentrism -- putting humans first and acting as if we're the only beings who count -- also is a bad lesson for youngsters who will inherit the messes we leave.

A more humble, right-minded, and less anthropocentric position argues for valuing and conserving nature because of its intrinsic value. The above two essays discuss these two views as does an excellent piece by Daniel Doak and his colleagues called "What Is the Future of Conservation?" published in a book called Protecting the Wild, edited by researchers George Wuerthner, Eileen Crist, and Tom Butler. Valuing other animals and diverse ecosystems for whom and what they are, not for what they can do for us, is part of personal rewilding. The emerging field of compassionate conservation also argues against narrow anthropocentrism in conservation science (please see "Compassionate Conservation: More than 'Welfarism Gone Wild'" and a recent essay in BioScience called "Compassion as a Practical and Evolved Ethic for Conservation").

There are far too many of us and there is no way to please everyone.

A very basic fact concerning how we are destroying our planet lies in the sheer number of human beings who are trying to live on Earth. The major problem is that there are far too many of us and there is no way we can please everyone no matter how hard we try. While I was reading and digesting the above essays, a lovely new book called Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot arrived at my door, and if there ever was a book that should be required reading around the globe for people of all ages it is this volume published by the Population Media Center. The beautiful and depressing pictures and sparse text make it an "easy read," and since I received it I haven't been able to step away from it for too long.

A brief description of the book reads as follows: "Every problem facing humanity, from poverty to violent conflict over resources, is exacerbated by a ballooning human population -- and so is every problem facing nature, including ecosystem loss, species extinctions, and climate chaos. But why is the demographic explosion and its effects ignored by policymakers and the media? Why do important people within the global environmental movement itself avoid the great challenges of the population issue?"

It's not all about us.

The Huffiington Post essay concludes: "But we cannot save everything. The resources at our disposal are far too limited. We must triage the crisis and that means human interests first. And, with that simple logic we land right back on the impoverished stance that began this essay. Crisper logic is called for. Of course, each of us individually has limited resources. Institutions, no matter how large, have limited resources. Individuals and institutions must decide how to manifest their care for the world on the basis of their abilities and the world's needs. One might help the food pantry (or be the food pantry). Another might help the land conservancy (or be the land conservancy). Neither can rightly critique the other. Extend that logic. We - as a human race, even as an American people - have plenty of resources to conserve nature both for its sake and ours. We are short on willpower, not resources. Triage cannot be rightly invoked in response to a shortage of willpower. Our humanity distinguishes us from the rest of nature. That humanity depends on acknowledging nature's intrinsic value. The only appropriate response to this essay's title is to shout with moral outrage what a sick tragedy it is to trade our humanity for survival when it is not necessary to give up either. All the while, do whatever you can to make the world a better place." (My emphasis)

Dr. Doak and his colleagues conclude their essay: "But refashioning conservation into a set of goals that primarily advance human interests means selling nature down the river, serving neither the long-term interests of people nor the rest of the species with which we share this planet." Amen.

New Conservation Science assumes, or can easily lead to the troubling and distorted -- some would say perverted -- view, that we are "above and separate from" other nature, and this is a dangerous, arrogant, and alienating move that could be perilous for us, other species, and diverse landscapes. All, in all, New Conservation Science not only is a bad lesson for youngsters and future conservation scientists, but also is narrow-minded, short-sighted, misguided, and far too much about the major problem -- us.