by Judith Curry
Conservationists need to work with development, not condemn it as leading to the end of nature. In truth, nature’s resilience has been overlooked, its fragility “grossly overstated.” Areas blasted by nuclear radiation are bio-diverse. Forest cover is rising in the Northern Hemisphere even as it declines globally.
These are ‘heretical words’ from Peter Kareiva, chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy. Karieva has written a provocative article for the Breakthrough Institute entitled Conservation in the Athropocene, with summary here. From the summary:
“By its own measures, conservation is failing. Biodiversity on Earth continues its rapid decline. We continue to lose forests in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. There are so few wild tigers and apes that they will be lost forever if current trends continue. Simply put, we are losing many more special places and species than we’re saving.”
So begins a searing indictment by the unlikeliest of sources: Peter Kareiva, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest conservation organization.
Kareiva is also a giant among conservation biologists. Inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences with Al Gore and Spike Lee, Kareiva is coauthor of the landmark 2010 textbook (with Michelle Marvier), Conservation Science, which begins from the premise that humans are the dominant ecological force on earth — and that the pre-human state of the world should no longer be viewed as the “natural” baseline.
Now, in an article for the Breakthrough Journal, Kareiva, along with Marvier and TNC colleague Robert Lalasz, say that even though conservationists have succeeded in putting ten times more land under protection since the 1950s — bringing the total to roughly “13 percent of the world’s land mass… an area larger than all of South America” — this preservationist model is inadequate given what Fareed Zakaria and others have called “the rise of the Rest.”
Brazil will no more wall off the Amazon than settlers in America walled off its forests. At the same time, Brazil will almost certainly protect more of its forests than either the US or Europe did. But “whether or not the developing world sets aside a large percentage of its landscapes as parks or wilderness over the next hundred years,” Kareiva, Marvier, and Lalasz write, “those protected areas will remain islands of ‘pristine nature’ in a sea of profound human transformations through logging, agriculture, mining, damming, and urbanization.”
Happily, Kareiva and coauthors are not alone in suggesting humans may find a new kind of power through planetary gardening, not planetary preservation. Nature correspondent Emma Marris offered a philosophical embrace of creating new natures outside of parks in her sharp-minded 2011 book, Rambunctious Garden. Too often, an attempt to protect nature in its pristine state “thwarts bold new plans to save the environment and prevents us from having a fuller relationship with nature,” Marris wrote.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the implications of living in a human-engineered era. Coincidentally, “Conservation in the Anthropocene” is the title of both the Kareiva et al. essay in the Breakthrough Journal as well as one by five University of California scientists published in Conservation Biology last fall, which made the contrary argument. “If the idea that Earth is already spoiled further permeates the general mindset,” the scientists worried, “monetary contributions to and efforts for conservation may seem futile to the general public, whose support is vital to conservation.”
Failed metaphors and a new environmentalism
Over at dotearth, Andy Revkin has a post ‘Invconvenient Environmentalist‘, including a link to Kareiva’s lecture Failed Metaphors and a New Environmentalism. Excerpts:
I encourage you to watch the provocative and important lecture above byPeter Kareiva, the much-lauded chief scientist of the world’s biggest environmental group, the Nature Conservancy. The title is “Failed Metaphors and A New Environmentalism for the 21st Century.” It’s a refreshing call for new approaches from a community stuck on what I’ve called a “woe is me, shame on you” tune for far too long
On and on, he demolishes the mythologies built around the environment as something to be conserved separate from human affairs and the failed tactics and world views of the movement he has been a part of for decades. Kareiva is one of a growing array of leading environmental and ecology scholars and doers who see that new models for thinking and acting are required in this time of the Anthropocene, an era in which Earth is increasingly what humans choose to make it — either through action or inaction.
JC comment: I find Kareiva’s perspective to be both refreshing and wise. I was introduced to these concepts about 8 years ago or so, in the context ecological engineering, ecosystem engineering, human ecology, which seem to be basically of a common theme to ‘planetary gardening.’ These approaches can be used to promote mutual adaptation of humans and ecosystems to climate change.
JC note: Owing to an insane schedule, I have had very little time to spend on the blog, things should ease up next week.