Bold thinking for conservation

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.

Can we halt biodiversity loss by setting up more protected areas? National park in southern Mongolia (Photo by H. von Wehrden)

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.


One thought on “Bold thinking for conservation

  1. Hi Jan – interesting post and I agree with you. It is not easy to find out how to operate in a ‘holistic’ way in order to maintain the Earth ecological systems functional and to maintain species of plants and animals. This is a ‘multi axis’ problem, and I will pick up just one axis, related to the individual knowledge about the plants and animals (important because our attitudes and behaviours are influenced by knowledge). Below two extremes:

    Extreme A)
    For example, an average kid from a Transylvanian middle sized town know many common plants and animals in the surrounding of the town. They pick up this knowledge on the way – largely in informal ways. A kid from a village may know > 30 plant species, while adults know tens of plants and hundreds of animals, and know exactly how to manage their lands in a sustainable way. To put it simply: there people know what the strong dependence from natural system means and how to deal with it. They basically dont need formal protected areas, since biodiversity conservation is very much in their way of living.

    Extreme B)
    Contrary – I met (biology) students from western countries (I dont give name, because it is unimportant) which were extraordinaly happy to see for the first time in their lives a poor worm (Lumbricus terrestris). This tells a lot, and I will not continue with discussing this situation and facts. Each of us know people who say: ‘i dont even meet that species in person but i made hundreds of models about it / and know its genetics etc.’. Same stupid, and unfair situation – in my view.

    It was extremely funny when people from the Extreme B world came in my school – made by the extreme A types of kids (and I even invited them in my class where I had kids of ~12-13 years) and started to talk about nature in a way they fo it generally. And they feel frustrated because in fact, my kids know everything about what they told and even more. I told them, look, better to stop other way you become funny…

    Take home message from this axis: we need to develop different types of teachings in order to increase awareness in the various ‘extremes’.

    And this is a little piece in what you say: ‘holistic approach’ – I guess. Small piece and so hard – not talking about different types of societies, economies etc.

    Sorry I run – and I may be chaotic. Reat also between the rows…


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