Which ethics work best

Having just read Robinson’s paper Ethical pluralism, pragmatism, and sustainability in conservation practice I’m now thinking about some issues raised in the paper:
Three values/ideologies:

  • intrinsic value and holistic approaches, including the argument for existence value which can still be anthropocentric, IUCN Red Listing is given as an example
  • Traditional values and indigenous people
  • Pro-poor conservation – emphasizing the utilitarian value and sustainable livelihoods
  • Economism – relating to the value of BD to our well-being

Conservation approaches:

  • protected areas
  • giving authority to the local level (Social Ecology model – follow up by reading Sarkar and Montoya, same issue)
  • mainstreaming conservation – aiming for greatest economic and social returns (requires some level of valuation), can include sustainable use

Some take-home messages:

  • The relationship between the three ideologies and the three approaches listed is not rigid.
  • The specific context of a conservation project determines the approach to choose, and a plurality of values and approaches can (and should) be embraced.

Some questions:

  • Which conservation approaches have seen the biggest successes?
  • Which approaches appear to have the longest-lasting impacts?
  • What impact does an organization’s statements on values have on perceptions of it? (e.g. IUCN quoted re: sustainable use, values of BD, etc)

Key ideas: integrated conservation and development (ICD), ethics, values, approaches, what works, social/ecological trade-offs,

Follow up reading:

  • Berkes, 2007 – re: role of partnership of local authorities and international NGOs
  • McShane et al 2010 – re: values of stakeholders and trade-offs
  • Wells  and Brandon, 1992, Robinson and Redford, 2004 – re: ICD
  • Holling 1978 – re: adaptive management
  • Robinson, JG 1993 – The limits to caring: sustainable living and the loss of bidoviersity

Is the shop window filled with the wrong images?

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.

Cynicism vs. tough questions

glass-of-waterWhere is the line between asking tough questions and being cynical? If I ask whether the outcome of a particular conservation action is likely to work, aren’t I just asking for accountability and trying to ensure that we are carefully considering whether the intervention will work? Or does questioning such things actually reveal an unacceptable level of underlying cynicism?
Where is the line between holding conservation interventions to a high standard of accountability and over the top cynicism and pessimism?

Where is the line between optimism and burying your head in the sand?

And most importantly do the optimists or the slightly cynical realists get more done in terms of conservation success?

Psychological barriers and avenues to changing behaviour

Lynx lynxI read an interesting blog post by Andrew Revkin at DotEarth today that made me think about what motivates us to act on risks like climate change or species loss:
“The science of human behavior, particularly the psychology of risk perception, robustly shows that we use two systems to make judgments about risk; reason and affect, facts and feelings. It is simply naïve to disregard this inescapable truth and presume that reason and intellect alone will carry the day. That’s just not how the human animal behaves. Even as potentially catastrophic as climate change might be, if people don’t sense climate change as a direct personal threat, reason alone won’t convince them that the costs of action are worth it.” – David Ropeik, quoted on dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com

This helps to validate my long-time gut feeling that without direct experience that leads to a lasting emotionally charged memory of either the wonder of nature or the harsh risks of environmental damage, people won’t take action. This is why experiential outdoor education for children and adults (if I can be so optimistic) is so important to create a generation of people passionate to make changes for the benefit of the planet.

On the other hand, there are other rational and fact-based reasons that must be addressed if we want people to act:

“Which Psychological Barriers Limit Climate Change Action? General sequence of psychological barriers

Mistrust and reactance
Judgmental discounting
Place attachment
Perceived behavioral control [–> you need evidence that your actions will make a difference; emotions and principles seem not be enough]
Perceived risks from behavioral change
Tokenism and the rebound effect
Social comparison, norms, conformity and perceived equity
Conflicting goals and aspirations
Belief in solutions outside of human control”

– from a task force of the American Psychological Association, quoted on dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com

The science of human behavior, particularly the psychology of risk perception, robustly shows that we use two systems to make judgments about risk; reason and affect, facts and feelings. It is simply naïve to disregard this inescapable truth and presume that reason and intellect alone will carry the day. That’s just not how the human animal behaves. Even as potentially catastrophic as climate change might be, if people don’t sense climate change as a direct personal threat, reason alone won’t convince them that the costs of action are worth it.

Bought, sold, traded, gone extinct? CITES to the rescue

Tropical timber being transported through Cameroon (2007)Many plants and animals are traded on international markets but you may not often pay attention to the fact that so many of the commodities you come in contact with on a day to day basis are derived from endangered species because often by the time you buy them in a store they have been processed. However: your furniture may be made of mahogany wood, your sushi lunch might have been bluefin tuna, and you may be wearing a necklace of red and pink coral. All of those species are at risk of going extinct, because of trade. For this reason, about 176 countries sign up to an agreement to work together to manage this by evaluating whether or not the level of trade in a species is sustainable, and if it’s not either banning trade or setting up quotas to regulate the trade and thus keep the harvesting of the species in the wild under control. The international treaty is called CITES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species).
I just spent the last two days in a meeting with colleagues discussing how to deal with marine species that are listed on CITES and I have to say, this is serious business. Death threats, serious political behind-the-scenes action, lobbying campaigns, and months of strategizing.

There are challenges even once a species is listed on the convention: how do you deal with fish that are caught at sea outside the bounds of national jurisdiction where it is not clear which country should have the responsibility to issue the permit to sell those fish?

What do you do with the countries that don’t comply? How much time do you give them to get their act together to maintain some political capital in your negotiations with them? What if the species is declining so fast that there is no time to give the country a chance?

I even learned that one hypothesized reason that the majority of pink and red coral species (the Corallium genus) are not yet on CITES is because they were the last item on the agenda after a day of particularly frustrating negotiations, and according to experts who know that this creature has been seriously depleted for the jewelry trade, the Parties voted against the proposal and it may just been out of spite, fatigue, inattention, or lack of clear information.

The growing carbon footprint of shipping

Photo by blentley courtesy of Flickr
Did you know that shipping may account for 3% of global C02 emisssions and the industry is growing 3% annually? To make this a somewhat more visual: there are 90,000 ships at sea.
To put this in perspective I decided to look up the percent of CO2 from aviation and found figures ranging from 2 to 20% (through a quick Google search), so there may be a similar range of estimated values for shipping if you were to look deeper. Nonetheless, what really struck me was the rate at which shipping is growing – a rate which is harder to criticize than increased aviation because trade is so directly tied to the global economy and development. It’s probably going to keep growing and it is hard to argue against that. Here are a few points to know about shipping in context of global climate policy:

  • shipping has largely been left out of the Kyoto Protocol due to complexities…
  • Long range transport ships use dirty fuel, aka ‘bunker fuel’ or ‘residual fuel’
  • European environment commissioner now wants it to be considered
  • The International Maritime Organisation represents the industry and says it is working on ways to curb CO2
  • Some complexities include: emissions are a function of trade and trade is increasing, only 25% of ships are registered in developed countries (so would compliance with Kyoto be voluntary for the other 75%?)

With the EC pushing a proposl forward for an emissions trading scheme for shipping and aviation (trying to get the EU to endorse it) this will be on the table at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. Full article

Fishery closed due to climate change

For the first time ever a fishery has been closed due to climate change:
“A federal fishery panel voted Thursday [05.02.2009] to close off a large swath of the Arctic sea to commercial fishing. The move was a pre-emptive measure to protect more than 150,000 square nautical miles north of the Bering Strait that have become more accessible as a result of the warming Arctic climate.” (NY Times 05.02.2009)

The article goes on to say that the closure was largely supported by industry and conservation groups. I can’t tell if this is unusually good news or if there is something suspect – maybe industry doesn’t think there are marketable fish there anyway.

While looking into this I also read that the Bering Sea is the source of most of the fish consumed in the US – I did not know this and need to look into this further to see if it is true and what type of fish are caught in the Bering Sea.

Full article in the NYTimes
North Pacific Fishery Management Council
Place where fishery was closed: Bering Sea

A lot of lobster

I used to think of lobster as a chewy inferior version of crab, but then I learned how cool they are: some of the spiny lobsters can migrate hundreds of kilometers in single file! In any case, for many people a lobster dinner is a serious treat, and I hadn’t really appreciated how popular it is until I read this today on Reuters: “James Hook & Co, a Boston fish merchant that sells about 50,000 pounds (23,000 kilograms) of lobster each week.”
That’s 1,196,000kg of lobster sold per year, by one merchant in one city. If you consider that one lobster (Homarus americanus) weighs about 0.57kg, the Hook family is selling over 2 million lobsters a year! It seems like that would be a conservation issue, but apparently eating Maine lobster is okay environmentally. On the other hand you need to be careful when eating Caribbean spiny lobster – especially if it is imported to the US.

Spiny lobsters are fascinating: some migrate hundreds of kilometers to find deeper, calmer waters for breeding…in single file. If they are attacked, they may back up into a rosette-formation for defense. Pretty cool.

At one point a fishery in Australia tried to reduce incidental catch of under-sized lobsters and ended up making traps that were accidentally catching seals. Luckily they were able to find a solution and the lobster fishery is now well-managed with reduced bycatch.

Lots on lobster conservation
Source of some of my stats here