Monday, December 2, 2013

A Crisis of Perspective


In Conservation: Tactics for a Constant Crisis, Michael Soulé briefly outlines seven factors as fundamental causes of environmental degradation, responsible for the increasingly rapid decline of species diversity worldwide. These "seven sources of biotic degradation" include exponential population growth, wealth disparities between developed and developing nations, an emphasis on short-term solutions rather than long-term thinking, anthropocentrism, and the prioritization of economic gain over environmental protection (the heart of problems of cultural transition and of economics).

 I agree that these seven factors do lead to environmental degradation, but would argue that anthropocentrism underpins Soulé's other six sources of degradation. Human- centered thinking is manifest as an emphasis on the success of the individual over the success of the community or health of the environment in The West. This short-sighted mentality has led to problematic population growth, poverty, and environmentally irresponsible economic development worldwide, as developing nations seek to create the same opportunities enjoyed by the citizens of developed societies- the majority of which subscribe to Western values.

The forest inside

Over 20 years after the publication of Soulé's piece, the field of Conservation Biology is still plagued by the problems he outlined in 1991. If anything, anthropocentrism has become more entrenched in the field since the early 90s, with the growing popularity of ecosystem services as a way to quantify the monetary value of conservation action. But approaching the environment as a personal resource is problematic, because the definition of "beneficial" is subjective. What one generation considers worthwhile, another may not. If we protect the environment from this standpoint, we ironically promote the fundamentally problematic thinking got us into this mess in the first place.   

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