Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Friday, May 06, 2011


Cŏn-sērve', v. to keep in a safe or sound state; to save, to preserve from loss, decay, waste, or injury; to defend from violation.” -Webster's Dictionary

At a recent public meeting, I was accused of caring more about tortoises than people. It wasn't the first time I'd had such charges leveled against me; in fact, it's the rare argument against conservation that leaves this rhetorical barb in the quiver. Of course, if it came down to an actual choice between the lives of tortoises and people (rather than between tortoises and the further enriching of a handful of fat-cats), I'd have to side with my own species. But the real fallacy of this accusation is that at its core, conservation is a practice based in self-interest.

Our sustenance-culture forebears engaged personally each day with the resources they consumed. To them, the conservation of nature was basic common sense. Those cultures that consumed resources faster than they could replenish themselves simply died out. It was a folly analogous to outspending our own weekly paychecks. In today's industrial world, most of us consume resources gathered from far away lands, and gauging the sustainability of their harvest is difficult. Still, by the Nineteenth Century, as the global population passed one billion, the alarming decline of the of the Northern Hemisphere's forests alerted visionaries like Henry David Thoreau and George Perkins Marsh to the need for a new conservation philosophy. This philosophy was informed by two assumptions: first, the undeniable fact that Humans, as facets of ecological systems, are dependent on those systems, and have a vested interest in their remaining healthy and operational, and that Humans have an intrinsic need—call it spiritual, biological or psychological—for nature. The ecologist Edward O. Wilson called it “biophilia.”

Since the days of Marsh and Thoreau, the Human population has expanded exponentially, more than doubling during my own lifetime, stressing the biological systems that ultimately support us all. In addition to increasing resource consumption, population growth exacerbates the non-consumptive displacement and stress caused by human activities, elevating innocuous enterprises to ecologically devastating ones. Adding to this is the increasing per capita rate of consumption, which is harder to assess. It's probably best measured with the closely related indicators of standard of living and economic growth, which are usually expressed with the soft metric of currency, but its rise over time has, if anything, exceeded that of population.Conventional wisdom has told us that economic growth will alleviate the problems of overpopulation and ecological degradation. Standard models predicted the Human population stabilizing at about 9 billion by the middle of this century. The latest U. N. study, just released on May 3, casts doubt on this assumption, predicting continued growth, and a population exceeding 10 billion before century's end. More dubious yet is the oft-cited idea that as poor countries become wealthier, the state of their ecological systems improves. While it's true that more efficient technologies become available to the masses with increased wealth, along with better education, which depresses fertility, most of the fuel for this hypothetical process comes from the historical fact that as their living standards improved, northern nations looking increasingly beyond their own shores for natural resources, relieving themselves of many of the downsides of resource extraction. This option will not be open to the currently developing world. Where the natural impact of Humans in wealthy countries is global, that of poor countries is local. While the ecologically devastating land-use practices of a few very poor nations like Madagascar skew the picture, the ecological health of the world's poor nations is inversely proportional to their wealth, just as the planet's total ecological health is inversely proportional to the overall wealth of its Human population: a sobering realization.As ecology defines how energy circulates among organisms, economics defines how wealth circulates among individuals, and the same principles govern both sciences. It's the outstripping of resource renewal by consumption-- that same paradigm we call “economic growth,” and are used to seeing as an amenity--that makes conservation necessary. Clearly, the primary goal of any conservation philosophy must be to reach a point of economic equilibrium. Planning a route to that equilibrium will cause hardship, but failing to plan for it will ensure that same hardship in spades. Those of us in wealthy countries have the most power to act for the ultimate good of all, and each of us as individuals must decide how much of the burden we're willing to shoulder. It's not for the tortoises, it's for ourselves.

Next up in the series: Conservation vs. Management
upper: DESERT TORTOISES (2008) acrylic 20" x 30"
center: Graph from Wikimedia, adapted by CPBvK


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post.

I worked in a conservation program for an endangered bird species last year, and the people against it are farmers and mining companies who have these birds breeding on their lands and worry about the use of the land. While most of them had misinformation or politicians enforcing incorrect rules, thus causing anger towards us and the species, the primary question they dish out that is also the most difficult one to answer is why conserve this species? Why not just it go extinct and then don't have to worry about it anymore? Why is the government spending so much money (the program is underfunded, in reality) researching and protecting the species, while people can't make livelihood because of this d@mn animal?

While it is easy to see it from their perspective, it is difficult to share our perspective because they simply don't have the same attitude towards nature and wildlife as us.

Anyways, sorry for the rant, but this post provided some excellent starting points if I ever come across the same situation again. I look forward to your future posts on this topic. Thank you.


1:07 PM  
Blogger Linda Besse said...

Your words are incredibly insightful and presented with such precision. Well said. I will share this blog with all who will listen (and maybe some who won't.) I look forward to Part II.

11:54 PM  
Anonymous arginine said...

I also find it educational in some way, for the information shared are new and unique.

7:43 AM  
Anonymous health ecology said...

Another informative blog… Thank you for sharing it… Best of luck for further endeavor too.

10:27 AM  
Anonymous Liga Inggris said...

I agree with you. This post is truly inspiring. I like your post and everything you share with us is current and very informative, I want to bookmark the page so I can return here from you that you have done a fantastic job.Jadwal Liga Inggris Klasemen Liga Inggris

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been researching this subject for a few days now for a report I am writing. Your post has been very helpful in this regard. Sleeping Pills Online

3:20 AM  
Anonymous Accredited High School Diploma Online said...

It is one of the awesome site in my view as far as my knowledge is concerned about this kind website. Thanks for sharing!

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Normally, I do not make comments on website, but I have to mention that this post really pushed me to do so. Really great post .Social Media Links

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Adults High School said...

Great informative blog! i really love to see your blog,Thanks for sharing.

4:18 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

thank you for some of these web articles is very impressive and qualified to compete alat bantu seksualitas and may continue to post quality articles article and useful for everyone

1:26 AM  
Anonymous Finish Your High School Education Online said...

It was nice to land on this website post and to see such superb stuff. Your website is choked with authentic and highly-researched knowledge that's price reading. I’ll sure enough advocate your website to my fellows!

4:20 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home