An inconvenient scientist

The Nature Conservancy’s Chief Scientist Peter Kareiva is championing serious changes in the business model currently embraced by the conservation movement, what many call the “conflict industry.”

Kareiva’s thought-provoking essay says a lot of what most people involved in resources have known for many years: conflict fundraising, “I have a nightmare” scenarios, can only take you so far.

“Conservation must demonstrate how the fates of nature and of people are deeply intertwined — and then offer new strategies for promoting the health and prosperity of both.”

I’ve referred to this as being “locked in an eternal symbiosis” so, yes, I agree with Dr. Kareiva.

“Nature could be a garden — not a carefully manicured and rigid one, but a tangle of species and wildness amidst lands used for food production, mineral extraction, and urban life.”

Adherence to policies based on a simplistic “stop doing that” philosophy have resulted in severe damage to human communities and the environment. Dr. Kareiva gives a nod to the loss of the logging communities of the Pacific Northwest during a famous conflict campaign where he worked as a young man, the spotted owl fiasco. I think most conflict industry campaigners experience similar nightmares over good intentions that went horribly awry.

Most of these policy catastrophes could have been avoided if the simplistic black hats vs. white hats and “charismatic megafauna”-style marketing/fundraising materials had been exchanged for true education campaigns, campaigns that recognized the people on the ground and good science, that embraced holistic ecosystem management regimes.

Dr. Kareiva notes that Conservation Refugees’ author Mark Dowie has reported that, “About half the land selected for protection by the global conservation establishment over the past century was either occupied or regularly used by indigenous peoples. In the Americas that number is over 80 percent.”

So, argues Kareiva, the model has been for wealthy urbanites to lock up more land, to deny access to resources, to ignore their fellow man.

Dowie reports, “Estimates vary from five million people displaced over the last century by conservation to tens of millions, with one Cornell University professor estimating that 14 million individuals have been displaced by conservation in Africa alone.”

A 2004 declaration signed by all 200 delegates to the International Forum on Indigenous Mapping stated that the “activities of conservation organizations now represent the single biggest threat to the integrity of indigenous lands.”

Dr. Kareiva recognizes the importance of making changes to how we address environmental issues.

He pushes for “[C]onservation to embrace marginalized and demonized groups and to embrace a priority that has been anathema to us for more than a hundred years: economic development for all. The conservation we will get by embracing development and advancing human well-being will almost certainly not be the conservation that was imagined in its early days. But it will be more effective and far more broadly supported, in boardrooms and political chambers, as well as at kitchen tables.”

Well said. Thank you, Dr. Kareiva. May I buy you a beer?

KEY LINK:  Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier, Robert Lalasz, “Conservation in the Anthropocene: Beyond Solitude and Fragility”;

published by The Breakthrough Journal, Winter 2012, accessed at

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