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Whose conservation? (or please choose another title)

At the Parallel Forum meeting in January 2015, one of the groups used a Science article by one of the Forum's witnesses, Georgina Mace, as a starting point to discuss changes in the way that people view our relationship with nature.

Georgina Mace, in “Whose Conservation?” published in Science magazine, traces the changes in attitudes or “framing” of conservation in the past 50 years. She identifies four different phases in framing of nature. The phases have reflected in a shift in emphasis from species to ecosystems and from viewing nature as separate from humans to considering direct benefits that nature can provide humanity. Mace suggests that analysis tools and techniques have not always kept pace with changes in framing and draws attention to the challenges surrounding appropriate evaluation of the benefits of nature for economic analysis.

This led to a series of reflective discussions around how we understand nature and the impacts of how our attitudes impact on government policy. While our models and framing of nature seem to have become more complex over time, we have not necessarily become more effective in managing a more sustainable relationship between humans and nature.

The idea of how to value ecosystem services was the source of much deliberation. If one could quantify effects of changing land use on a range of services, decisions could be more informed as to the trade-offs between benefits and losses. However, while there is evidence of attempts to do this at a more local or regional scale, many challenging questions remain, including: how do we put a price on conservation at a broader scale given different attitudes and values in different locations? What possible hidden parts of the system are we not valuing? How reliable are the statistics and tools we use as the basis of measurement? In terms of determining “value”, there is also an issue where expressions of value may depend on the question framing.

A psychologist in the group found interest in how our views on the interaction between society and the environment have changed; raising the question: how has this affected the way we live?

Ideally, humanity should take a balanced approach towards the relationship between nature and people, but there remains tendency towards focusing on what nature can provide for people, rather than what we can do for nature. Perhaps there is a new way of making connections, for example developing products that align with the idea of conservation; that is, products that ultimately contribute back to the environment, rather than being down-cycled or thrown out as waste.

Mace’s paper reflected what we identified as a western view on the conservation and the environment, rather than a global one. Perhaps more research is needed on how people view the environment and how we should interact with it.

Some of the key themes from our discussion were:

  • Valuing ecosystem services
  • Impact of our change in attitude towards conservation & towards our general interaction with the environment

When she came to the Parallel Forum, Kristen was doing her PhD in the Centre for Sustainable Development on the application of resilience principles in infrastructure project decisions. She is now the Construction Engineering Masters Associate Course Director at the Department of Engineering.

Find out more about her work

This discussion used a Science article by the Forum's witness, Georgina Mace, as a starting point, where she discusses the current shift from a utilitarian, services-centred view of conservation towards what she describes as a ‘people and nature’ approach, characterised by awareness of the complex, two-directional relationships that exist between human society and biodiversity.

Download the paper