Tonight I spoke to a geography professor over an informal dinner for geography students and professors. He said that he is interested in conservation outside of protected areas and away from ‘pristine landscapes’ because by the time we might manage to figure out how to preserve those they’ll be gone. He went on to express the idea that the imagery of wilderness that is often used by those in conservation to advertise itself is for many an unattainable ideal – perhaps it is even an irrelevant one for most. While some are busy conserving their notions (real or imagined) of paradise, others are trashing it, and possibly the great majority of the rest of the world is using nature/biodiversity/natural resources and does not really care about it as an ideal, but as a means to get by.
Can the wilderness ideal pull people in to the conservation movement, train them up to the less glamourous reality of environmental issues, and convert them into useful conservationists? This professor thought not. I am still thinking about it but do see that it is probably an unlikely path for most. What I wonder more, then, is what does motivate people who are in conservation? What personal driving factors give way to the most passionate conservationists? What motivations or incentives lead to successful conservation? Does it matter at all, as long as the goal is to ensure the ongoing survival of biodiversity?
MF Child recently wrote a paper about the Thoreau ideal as a conservation ethic. I feel like a collector of conservation ethics, soaking in their ideals and eventually layering them up in my consciousness. But on a global scale, who has time for these kinds of ethics? I think a great number of stakeholders of nature who need to treat/use it more sustainably don’t have that luxury.
So if saving nature is good for people (because it provides them food or income or some other service) what makes us think that is a good enough reason for them to do it? Smokers know that “Smoking kills.” but do it anyway and face very personal consequences. Reasons for conserving biodiversity vary – I would like to know which ones lead to positive outcomes, for if we know this we’d be one step closer to being able to plant this seed in young (or older) minds.