strange behaviors

Cool doings from the natural and human worlds

  • Richard Conniff

  • Reviews for Richard Conniff’s Books


    Ending Epidemics: A History of Escape from Contagion: “Ending Epidemics is an important book, deeply and lovingly researched, written with precision and elegance, a sweeping story of centuries of human battle with infectious disease. Conniff is a brilliant historian with a jeweler’s eye for detail. I think the book is a masterpiece.” Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone and The Demon in the Freezer

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

  • Wall of the Dead

  • Categories

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 ( “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

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 ( 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

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 for full essay)

Peter Kareiva

2 Responses to “Kareiva Responds on Human Needs and The Tide of Extinctions”

  1. […] on human needs, is it saying “yes” to extinctions? Richard Conniff examines the debate — and Peter Kareiva responds to Conniff’s satisfaction. (Strange […]

  2. […] needs, is it saying “yes” to extinctions? Richard Conniff examines the debate — and Peter Kareiva responds to Conniff’s satisfaction. (Strange […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s