By Joern Fischer
Following a letter in Nature by Heather Tallis and over 200 co-signatories, there is a petition you can sign if you also believe in “inclusive conservation”. This is the term chosen by Heather and colleagues for conservation that recognises that biodiversity conservation should recognise both intrinsic/moral and instrumental values.
At first glance, this seems a great idea. I have argued on this blog before that indeed, there need not be a choice between instrumental and moral or intrinsic values in terms of motivating conservation action (see also here) – all three (moral and intrinsic should not be conflated, I’d say) are important. So fundamentally, I agree with the end goal envisaged by Tallis and others: inclusive conservation based on a wide range of ethical arguments.
But to ask to put and “end to the fighting” (Tallis et al.) strikes me as a bit too simple. An early moment in this debate was that Marvier and Kareiva called for “conservation science” to replace a somewhat outdated “conservation biology”, suggesting in their BioScience paper that “normative postulates” (as Soulé had written about in 1985) could be replaced by pragmatism (see my longer discussion here). Basically, these authors implied that intrinsic or moral motivations to conserve nature were somewhat ineffective and outdated. This paper infuriated many, myself included – because its argument is short-sighted, and essentially disrespectful of some of the most important thinking in conservation to date.
The argument that Tallis et al. make is right, but I do believe there is plenty of reason to fight back against those who portray an overly narrow, instrumentalised version of conservation. The fundamental drivers of biodiversity decline relate back to an overly successful Homo sapiens, which greedily takes for itself with little concern for anything else. I do not believe that unless we also address fundamental values, there will be much of a chance of biodiversity conservation. Pragmatism is valuable to win the occasional battle, but to win the overall war against a possible sixth mass extinction we must go beyond pragmatism – something that (to my mind) has not sufficiently been acknowledged by those advocating for a “new conservation” that largely emphasises the instrumental values of nature.
So, while I agree with Tallis et al. that we should have an inclusive conservation, I differ in a few points: (1) I think those who originally contributed much wisdom to “the old kind” of conservation biology have a right to defend themselves (or be defended by others who agree with them); (2) while there is a place for pragmatism and instrumental values, ultimately, moral reasons to conserve biodiversity will be important. Those emphasising instrumental values have typically not given enough credit to such concerns.
Inclusive conservation: yes. But moral concerns are at a different, deeper, and more fundamental level than instrumental concerns. While the two are complementary, one can’t simply replace the other — to me, that’s the message I would have liked to see in a piece such as this one.