I recently blogged about the old conservation / new conservation debate, mentioning that some have voiced the opinion that it’s of minor importance why we want to conserve nature, as long as we are united in that goal; and that having a range of reasons can even be rather useful, because some reasons may create more traction in policy circles, while others will work better elsewhere.
In a new article in Conservation Biology “The Complementary Niches of Anthropocentric and Biocentric Conservationists”, Hunter and colleagues make pretty much the same point: that some people care a bit more about humans (anthropocentric conservationists), while others care a bit more about species (biocentric conservationists), but we all care about saving nature, and therefore we should work together towards that goal instead of arguing about trifles. In short – there is more that unites us than divides us.
I should first say that I rather liked the article. Framing the whole problem along the niche axis of anthropocentric vs. biocentric preferences provides an excellent, albeit a bit simplistic picture of the problem. However, I disagree with the conclusions that are drawn from this picture. As I argue in my previous post, it is wishful thinking that the anthropocentric and the biocentric perspective on conservation are almost, or even mostly, complementary. It may be that, in their heart, conservationist are more in agreement than it appears from their theoretical frameworks. Judging the frameworks of ES vs. intrinsic values alone, however, I can’t but conclude that they can lead to entirely different actions. And if they do, choosing one over the other is a choice that matters. As for many other questions of moral values, it’s likely not a choice that we can once and for all settle by logic alone. Being aware of that ambiguity demands respect for opposing opinions, and of course one should cooperate with others that have the same goal, if for other reasons. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t think or debate about our reasons to conserve nature. If the choice about why we want to conserve nature matters for our actions, it’s worth debating and defending our view, in the same way as other political decisions such as questions intergenerational justice, security vs. freedom or the right of property vs. historical injustice demand our attention and our choice.
Hunter, M. L.; Redford, K. H. & Lindenmayer, D. B. (2014) The Complementary Niches of Anthropocentric and Biocentric Conservationists. Conservation Biology, 28, 641-645.