By Jan Hanspach
In the editorial “Bolder thinking for conservation” published in a recent issue of Conservation Biology Reed Noss and his colleagues lobby for more courageous thinking in conservation. We need more ambitious targets and we need to fight for them harder to halt biodiversity loss. The message behind it is simple, promising and based on empirical findings: We can save quite a bit of the world’s biodiversity if only we manage to protect 50% of the world’s terrestrial area.
Yes, you already guessed correctly that I do not fully agree with what is suggested in that essay, but I’ll come to that later. First, I do agree that we need more lobbying for conservation and we also need more ambitious goals and visions that may appear unachievable in the short term, but are very valuable (and probably necessary) in the long run. Further, I second the view that we should not forget to see nature in a non-utilitarian way and that we need to improve conservation education.
The main message, nonetheless, seems naïve and simplistic to me. I think the strategy proposed by Noss et al. could help to win some individual battles, but not the overall war against biodiversity loss. The problem is that simply setting up more protected areas does not reduce the drivers of biodiversity loss (the unsustainable use of resources). And even if we assume that such an approach did successfully protect biodiversity within those areas, land use intensification would skyrocket in the unconserved bits, so that the productivity of that land would ultimately collapse – then making enforcement of protected areas politically and practically impossible. Besides, setting up protected area in a top down way causes conflicts and deteriorates acceptance of conservation issues in local communities. Biodiversity conservation can only be achieved based on a holistic strategy of sustainable use of the planet’s resources, and the drivers of biodiversity loss can only be reduced through changes in behaviour and society – not simply through more protected areas.
My take home message to you: we desperately need a bolder thinking for conservation. But to me this means we need it to reduce the drivers of biodiversity loss holistically.
PS: I think perhaps the essay should have been entitled something like “Bold thinking for protected areas”. Because really, that’s what it’s all about.