Kareiva Responds on Human Needs and The Tide of Extinctions
Posted by Richard Conniff on February 17, 2014
The Nature Conservancy’s Peter Kareiva and [UPDATE] Philip Cafaro have sent helpful responses to my recent article “Is Focusing On Human Needs Like Saying ‘Yes’ To Extinctions” I’m putting it up as a separate post because it deserves more attention than it might get as a comment to the previous article. First, here’s what I wrote as an afterthought to the original article:
Kareiva, when I spoke with him, seemed to be much more adept at blowing up conventional conservationist thinking than at pointing out new ways forward. (He was vague about the details on that.) Cafaro, on the other hand, seemed stuck in 1960s outrage, in ways that also don’t advance the way society treats conservation issues. Here’s what I woke up this morning thinking: Instead of wasting their energy in bitter and divisive squabbling, maybe they should be collaborating to play good cop-bad cop with the culprits who are actually causing environmental destruction?
Here’s Cafaro’s response:
Many thanks for taking the time to interview me and Kareiva and write up your take on these matters. You are right that self-interest is a powerful force, but it isn’t everything. Appeals to fair treatment of others, whether human or nonhuman, have proven effective many times in the past, including when deployed by conservationists. It is hardly “pragmatic” to undermine them in the way Kareiva and Marvier do in their articles.
Self-interest is important. But how people define our self-interest will make a big difference in setting the terms for what sort of conservation we are able to achieve in the future. Looking down the line, it is hard to imagine preserving much wild nature in the context of endlessly growing human economies. Hence Primack and my suggestion that conservationists work harder to advocate for genuinely sustainable economies that recognize ecological limits to growth. Karieva and Marvier call this “scolding capitalism” in one of their articles. We call it necessary to the long-term success of conservation–even an anthropocentric conservation that only concerns itself with human well-being.
Here’s Kareiva’s response:
Richard is correct that when he called me I was vague about ideas—I was between sessions at the AMS meetings in Atlanta, trying to find a room for a talk, and distracted. But we have lots of specific ideas.
First check out the Natural Capital Project which has over twenty specific projects around the world (http://www.naturalcapitalproject.org/). “NatCap” mainstreams conservation by making the benefits people derive from nature explicit and transparent.
Second, our efforts to broaden the conservation tent include LEAF (see http://www.nature.org/about-us/careers/leaf/).
And yes, I wish we had better documentation of what works and does not work. In general conservation has not been terrific at really testing the effectiveness of its different efforts — but the field has learned and is learning, and most conservation NGO’s are making a serious effort to monitor their impact (http://www.conservationmeasures.org/). But these are new ideas. For that reason we have also launched a science effort that aims to work at the convergence of ecology, conservation, economics and action to examine these new ideas. A good example of this is a study of how natural defenses can help provide coastal resilience (see http://www.snap.is/groups/coastal-defenses/).
Richard is also right in suggesting that this bickering and in-fighting is a waste of energy and time. Professor Marvier and I never meant to demean or discredit any of our conservation colleagues. We have the utmost respect for Michael Soule, and in fact wrote about his paper out of respect –if we did not respect it, we would not have paid any attention to it. I suggest folks read our Bioscience paper and ask themselves if we were disrespectful. We think there is room for all possible strategies and values in service of conservation –from radical to compromising, from utilitarian to intrinsic value, from pragmatic to purist. It is only with a broad based coalition that we will be able to address the big challenges facing conservation – climate change, land conversion, and degradation of freshwater and marine systems. There is not one and only one “true conservation” –there are many faces and reasons for conservation. We should muster them all in a joint effort.
As Professor Marvier writes,
“At the end of the day, all conservationists — both “new” and “traditional” — very much want to stem the tide of extinction. We all want abundant, beautiful natural spaces. We all agree that the relatively pristine places on our planet are a top priority for protection and that protected areas will continue to be an important part of conservation” (see http://www.snap.is/magazine/new-conservation-friend-or-foe/ for full essay)