Condoms instead of nature reserves

24 01 2011

Rob Dietz over at the Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy thought readers would be interested in the following post by Tim Murray (the original post was entitled What if we stopped fighting for preservation and fought economic growth instead?). There are some interesting ideas here, and I concur that because we have failed to curtail extinctions, and there’s really no evidence that conservation biology alone will be enough to save what remains (despite 50 + years of development), big ideas like these are needed. I’d be interested to read your comments.

Each time environmentalists rally to defend an endangered habitat, and finally win the battle to designate it as a park “forever,” as Nature Conservancy puts it, the economic growth machine turns to surrounding lands and exploits them ever more intensively, causing more species loss than ever before, putting even more lands under threat. For each acre of land that comes under protection, two acres are developed, and 40% of all species lie outside of parks. Nature Conservancy Canada may indeed have “saved” – at least for now – two million acres [my addendum: that’s 809371 hectares], but many more millions have been ruined. And the ruin continues, until, once more, on a dozen other fronts, development comes knocking at the door of a forest, or a marsh or a valley that many hold sacred. Once again, environmentalists, fresh from an earlier conflict, drop everything to rally its defence, and once again, if they are lucky, yet another section of land is declared off-limits to logging, mining and exploration. They are like a fire brigade that never rests, running about, exhausted, trying to extinguish one brush fire after another, year after year, decade after decade, winning battles but losing the war.

Despite occasional setbacks, the growth machine continues more furiously, and finally, even lands which had been set aside “forever” come under pressure. As development gets closer, the protected land becomes more valuable, and more costly to protect. Then government, under the duress of energy and resource shortages and the dire need for royalties and revenue, caves in to allow industry a foothold, then a chunk, then another. Yosemite Park, Hamber Provincial Park, Steve Irwin Park [my addendum – even the mention of this man is an insult to biodiversity conservation]… the list goes on. There is no durable sanctuary from economic growth. Any park that is made by legislation can be unmade by legislation. Governments change and so do circumstances. But growth continues and natural capital [my addendum: see my post on this term and others] shrinks. And things are not even desperate yet. Read the rest of this entry »

The Irwin Factor in Conservation Leadership

16 08 2008
© Channel 10 Australia

© Channel 10 Australia

In 2007 we were compelled to comment on an essential ingredient in the challenge to convince people that conserving biodiversity is in their best interest – inspirational and celebrity characters highlighting the extinction crisis.

Just how important is it to have charismatic conservation champions with celebrity status beating the drum for change? I used to think that it was essential (and some of my colleagues agree) if the majority of the human population is to alter destructive behaviour, especially considering that most people do not read the scientific literature (hence, media such as blogs that can appeal to a much wider audience).

However, there is a danger that overtly sensational representation of these issues may stimulate nothing at all, or even counter-productive behaviour. Indeed, this was our argument concerning Aussie ‘larrikin’ Steve Irwin. Our letter entitled Dangers of sensationalizing conservation biology published in the journal Conservation Biology was a response to Sébastien Paquette’s letter entitled Importance of the ‘Crocodile Hunter’ phenomenon published in the same journal.

An abbreviated version of our letter follows:

The global biodiversity crisis that spawned the discipline of conservation biology is closer to the forefront of the average person’s thoughts than it has ever been. The shift in popular thinking about conservation issues is in no small way due to the impressive and relevant work of conservation scientists worldwide. It is good science that provides the focus for the conservation spotlight, which continues to gain in intensity with problems such as anthropogenically driven climate change. That said, acknowledgement must be given to the power of advocacy wielded by people who have been successful in promoting awareness of conservation matters in the mass media.

The power of media, such as television, to influence public thought on conservation issues is, however, both a blessing and a curse. Its great benefit is that it promotes awareness of the natural world among the urbanized citizenry who are disconnected from the plight of biodiversity. Modern “nature celebrities” such as Sir David Attenborough, Jacques Cousteau, Al Gore, and Steve Irwin have fostered and promoted an appreciation and fascination of natural systems by people who would never otherwise have the opportunity to observe them. The curse, however, is subtler and insidious. The overarching requirement of popular entertainment is that it be eye-catching, sensational, and even eccentric if it is to attract sufficient attention to survive. Read the rest of this entry »