Conservation in the Real World: Suckling responds to Kareiva
Thanks to Sharon for posting the article about Peter Kareiva’s research and thoughts, which recently appeared on Greenwire, as well as linking to Conservation in the Anthropocene, written by Kareiva, together with Robert Lalasz and Michelle Marvier. The comments section quickly filled up with some great perspectives. Regular commenter “TreeC123″ highlighted the fact that the Breakthrough Journal invited Kierán Suckling, with the Center for Biological Diversity, to provide a response to the piece by Kareiva et al titled Conservation in the Real World. Below are snips:
Had the article been published a century ago, the author’s decision to frame the environmental movement through a critique of Emerson (1803-1882), Hawthorne (1804-1864), Thoreau (1817-1862) and Muir (1838-1914) might have made sense. But alleged weaknesses of these dead white men is an entirely inadequate anchor for an essay that bills itself as a rethinking of contemporary environmentalism. Indeed, the only 20th century environmentalist mentioned in the essay is the novelist and essayist Ed Abbey. It is frankly bizarre that Kareiva et al.’s depiction of environmentalists is not based on NRDC, the Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Environment America, 350.org, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, or indeed, any environmental group at all.
Bizarre, but necessary: Kareiva et al.’s “conservationist” straw man would have fallen to pieces had they attempted to base it on the ongoing work of actual conservation groups.
Consider their take on wilderness. The straw man is constructed by telling us (without reference to an actual conservation group, of course) that “the wilderness ideal presupposes that there are parts of the world untouched by humankind.” Then the authors smugly knock it down with the shocking revelation that “The wilderness so beloved by conservationists — places ‘untrammeled by man’ — never existed.”
Do Kareiva et al. expect readers to believe that conservation groups are unaware that American Indians and native Alaskans lived in huge swaths of what are now designated wilderness areas? Or that they mysteriously failed to see the cows, sheep, bridges, fences, fire towers, fire suppression and/or mining claims within the majority of the proposed wilderness areas they have so painstakingly walked, mapped, camped in, photographed, and advocated for? It is not environmentalists who are naïve about wilderness; it is Kareiva et al. who are naïve about environmentalists. Environmental groups have little interest in the “wilderness ideal” because it has no legal, political or biological relevance when it comes to creating or managing wilderness areas. They simply want to bring the greatest protections possible to the lands which have been the least degraded….
At a time when conservationists need honest, hard-headed reassessment of what works and what needs changing, Kareiva et al. offer little more than exaggerations, straw-man arguments and a forced optimism that too often crosses the line into denial. There are plenty of real biodiversity recovery stories to tell, but to learn from them, we have to take off the blinders of sweeping generalizations and pay attention to the details and complexities of real-world conservation work. That’s the breakthrough we need to survive the Anthropocene.