May 16, 2013 | By:

The “New Conservation’s” Surrender to Development

by Brian Miller, Michael E. Soulé, and John Terborgh


When a functioning ecological system is perturbed by human activity, processes are distorted and species diversity often declines. Research has shown that loss of species diversity decreases productivity, resilience (stability), efficiency of ecosystems, and increases chances of catastrophic disease. Recently, powerful interests propose to manage wild places and biodiversity for human benefits alone.  We argue that this ideological leap rests on several flawed assumptions: (1) nature is a warehouse for humans; (2) humans can construct new ecosystems from non-native species (exotics); (3) humans don’t have to live within limits; (4) nature is resilient; (5) nature is nowhere pristine; (6) nature is a social construct; (7) conservationists preach too much doom and gloom; (8) humans can manage nature intensively while preserving biodiversity.  We contend that these revisionist anthropocentric doctrines are faith-based, resting more on an engineering world view and wishful thinking than on evidence.

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Mark LaRoux
11 years ago

I’m glad they put this out there, because it needs to be said (well done, Miller, Soule, and Terborgh). Additionally, I think conservationists need to remember that a majority of the problems are caused by a key number of people who have been put into positions of power. This is our fault, and no one else’s. We can blame whomever we want, but if we pass on the opportunity to vote by being distracted, or worse by being demoralized, we have already lost. I’d add that the old saying of ‘kicking ass and taking names’ needs to be stressed if we want to accomplish anything in the future…the same ol’ bad guys seem to keep turning up time after time, despite their new disguises.

Haydn Washington
11 years ago

I would like to thank the authors for detailing a very worrying twisting of ecological science in the name of ideology. Paul Kingsnorth in ‘Dark Ecology’ calls ‘Gardening’ neo-environmentalism, expressing the same concern. I also have concerns at how ‘adaptive management’ and ‘sustainable use’ are being used (misused) to justify further developing natural areas. Gunderson and Holling (2002) in ‘Panarchy’ on p. 150 state ‘There is no nature out there, there is no baseline, current states of nature are seen as extremely path dependent. The environment is not constant and environmental change is episodic. Ecosystems do not have a single equilibrium, but multiple and movement between these is a natural part of maintaining structure and diversity’. They thus provide ammunition for developers to argue that impact on nature is just ‘natural’. This trivialises the extent and nature of the environmental crisis we are in. When ecological theory lends itself to supporting the further degradation of nature, that theory needs to be assessed and if need be abandoned. Ecologists have to be very careful that their work is not highjacked by the development agenda. To date few have spoken out on this. So bravo to Miller, Soule and Terborgh for speaking out on this critical issue!
Dr Haydn Washington, Visiting Fellow, Institute of Environmental Studies, UNSW

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