Working in the dark

I have incredible access to conservation knowledge right now thanks to my university’s subscriptions to all the online journals. When I go back to work next year I won’t be able to access any of it – so how will I make sure I get the right technical background to support the decisions I’m making in my job?

I’m writing a brief to my fictitious boss of the national biodiversity authority to advise him on a current conservation issue and bring him up to speed on how the latest developments may inform changes in conservation practice (it’s an assignment for my course).

The topic I’m researching is whether we should intensify farming to increase food yields so we don’t need to convert more nature to produce more food, or whether we should make farming more wildlife-friendly. There are plenty of opinions and arguments for which one is best for biodiversity and it’s fascinating…

…but the shocking thing is that if I had been asked to produce this kind of information piece back at my job in the conservation organization I worked for, I couldn’t have. Why? Because conservation organizations (and probably government agencies though I’m not sure) don’t have electronic subscriptions to the journals that publish these papers! How can they/we make informed decisions and keep abreast of the current evidence for the relative merit of various conservation options without online access to the journals?*

This is definitely something that I need to do something about…or we will be doomed to keep making the same mistakes because we are not learning from the rest of the community!

A few ideas:

  • get a donor/company to sponsor a subscription for an organization
  • create a joint scheme for conservation organisations to share subscriptions with some way of limiting access
  • allow just senior level managers of conservation organizations to have access
  • create a mirror search system to facilitate searching but have a limited download policy per organization (technically feasible?)
  • Do you have any ideas?
*By the way, there are a few open access journals that are free to anyone, but most of the ones I’m finding helpful require a subscription. The abstracts (introductory summaries) of all subscription journals can be found online, but that is not enough as many of the leads one gets when reading an article to other related articles are in the main body of text. Conservationists in organizations with print subscriptions simply don’t have time to read on paper because following leads is so much more time-consuming. Online access really is key!


Ways we do conservation

I thought it would be interesting to put down this list of ways conservation is done today. Generally speaking the list is in order from oldest to newest methods.

  • Protected areas – national parks and reserves
  • Legislation and multi-national treaties
  • Ecological restoration
  • Targeted habitat management
  • Removal of invasive species
  • Captive breeding and reintroduction to the wild
  • Trans-boundary conservation – protected areas across multiple countries
  • Payments for environmentally sensitive farming
  • Habitat creation
  • Sustainable consumptive use (hunting tourism)
  • Sustainable non-consumptive use (photo-tourism)
  • Direct payments for biodiversity
  • Direct payments for ecosystem services

Hopefully in the next couple of years the list will expand to include more integrated management across industries and the landscapes they affect (e.g. mining, fishing). What else have I left off or do you expect will be added to the list before 2020?

List adapted from Rands et al., Biodiversity Conservation: Challenges Beyond 2010  Science 239 10 September 2010

More on deep ecology

Here I quote the most interesting points of an article written in 1989 by Ramachandra Guha called “Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique”

“decrying the narrowly economic goals of mainstream environmentalism, this new movement [‘new ecologists’ or ‘deep ecology’] proposes a militant defence of ‘Mother Earth’ and an unflinching opposition to human attacks on undisturbed wilderness. […]

deep ecology is uniquely American […] the social and cultural goals of radical environmentalism in other cultural contexts (e.g. West Germany and India) are quite different [… and] the social consequences of putting deep ecology into practice on a worldwide basis are very grave indeed. […]

the transition from an anthropocentric to a biocentric view in both religious and scientific traditions is only to be welcomed. What is unacceptable are the radical conclusions […] that intervention in nature should be guided primarily by the need to preserve biotic integrity rather than by the needs of humans. […] invoking the bogy of anthropocentrism is at best irrelevant and at worst a dangerous obfuscation.* […]

The wholesale transfer of a movement culturally rooted in American conservation history can only result in the social uprooting of human populations in other parts of the globe. […]

deep ecology is best viewed as a radical trend within the wilderness preservation movement. […] encouraging political militancy rather than negotiation […]

for the mainstream movement, the function of wilderness is to provide a temporary antidote to modern civilization […] the enjoyment of nature is an integral part of the consumer society [but] deep ecology runs parallel to the consumer society without seriously questioning its ecological and sociopolitical basis. […]

The expansionist character of modern Western man will have to give way to an ethic of renunciation and self-limitation, in which spiritual and communal values play an increasing role in sustaining social life. This revolution in cultural values [has] an understanding of environmental processes quite different from deep ecology. […]

If colonial and capitalist expansion has both accentuated social inequalities and signaled a precipitous fall in ecological wisdom, an alternate ecology must rest on an alternate society […] in the absence of social regeneration environmental regeneration has very little chance of succeeding […]

In 1958, the economist JK Galbraith referred to overconsumption as the unasked question of the American conservation movement. […] ‘If we are concerned about our great appetite for materials, it is plausible to seek to increase the supply, to decrease waste, to make better use of the stocks available, and to develop substitutes. But what of the appetite itself? Surely this is the ultimate source of the problem. If it continues its geometric course, will it not one day have to be restrained? Yet in the literature of the resource problem this is the forbidden question. Over it hangs a nearly total silence.’ “

*Note that this was said in contrast in particular to the two main ecological problems facing the world according to Guha in 1989: overconsumption by the wealthy and growing militarization (regional wars and nuclear annihilation)