Are the niches of anthropocentric and biocentric conservationists really complementary?

OldNewConservationNiche

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.

3 thoughts on “Are the niches of anthropocentric and biocentric conservationists really complementary?

  1. I believe the root of the problem is that many humans continue to view themselves as separate, elite and in charge of nature based upon worn out paradigms from centuries past. Only when more people start to understand that they are animals too that are intrinsically linked to all life and that our biome is a web of life not a hierarchy or chain will these two ways of perceiving conservation goals start to truly overlap. I am all for a complete joining of these approaches in a systematic way.

  2. Dear Florian,
    I like your post (and the previous one). I recently had a discussion on the appropriateness of biodiversity offsets in the “Biodiversity professionals” linkedIn group (https://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers=&discussionID=5908182767769784321&gid=3667510&goback=#commentID_null). There, the opinion was given that this is an anthropogenic and anthropocentric development that per se is unbalanced. I have the feeling that the discussion about what you call the old and the new conservationism is getting quite harsh. Therefore, I would like to put more emphasis on your figure above which nicely illustrates that old and new conservationism are not two distinct categories but the two ends of a continuum – and a huge intersection exists in between.
    Marianne

    PS: good to see you blogging here and that our ways cross again (I remember our last meeting in Leipzig – almost five years ago!). I have just recently started blogging (the Biodiversity Offsets Blog is available at http://www.biodiversityoffsets.net) and it’s amazing to find how many people do – keep going and enjoy Freiburg!

    • Hey Marianne, long time no so, and sorry for the long delay, was a bit distracted from blogging lately.

      About the continuum … well, I guess my point was that there is overlap in what those “camps” want, and there is nothing wrong with calling them out to work together instead of arguing about trifles.

      On the other hand, their philosophical position for explaining why we need conservation is decidedly different. And I think it’s our job to see and say that clearly. It’s a fallacy to conclude that there are little differences between two moral positions only because their intents / wishes are the same.

      Yeah, saw your blog, good on you. And hope to see you some day!

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