TNC’s Chief Scientist Considers Conservation in the Real World


English: Stewart Brand in Sausalito, Californi...

Stewart Brand of the Long Now Foundation. Image via Wikipedia

Stewart Brand provided a synopsis of Peter Kareiva’s talk given at the Long Now Foundation.

In general, environmentalist have earned the reputation of being “misanthropic, anti-technology, anti-growth, dogmatic, purist, zealous, exclusive pastoralists.”

Kareiva gave several examples of how that reputation was earned. In Green rhetoric, everything in nature is described as “fragile!”—rivers, forests, the whole planet. It’s manifestly untrue. America’s eastern forest lost two of its most dominant species—the american chestnut and the passenger pigeon—and never faltered. Bikini Atoll was vaporized in an H-bomb test that boiled the ocean. When National Geographic sent a research team there recently, they found 25% more coral than was ever there before. The Deepwater Horizon oil disaster last year caused dramatically less harm to salt marshes and fisheries than expected, apparently because ocean bacteria ate most of the 5 million barrels of oil.

The problem with the fragility illusion is that it encourages a misplaced purism, leaving no room for compromise or negotiation, and it leads to “fortress conservation”—the idea that the only way to protect “fragile” ecosystems is to exclude all people.

“When things are fragile, and you’re convinced that they’re fragile, it puts you in a position where you do not negotiate. Because, if you just give a little–because it’s fragile–it’ll be broken, like that.” – Peter Kareiva, Chief Scientist & Director of Science at The Nature Conservancy.

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