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1 February 2011 Hope and Realism in Conservation Biology
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Swaisgood and Sheppard (BioScience 60: 626–630) have reminded us that hope is an essential component of effective conservation biology. Without this, conservation biologists lose credibility, the public loses interest, despair prevails among scientists, and only defeat is anticipated. These authors advocate better balance between realism and hope, and I offer two suggestions to help find that optimal balance.

Swaisgood and Sheppard focus on conservation of biodiversity. While saving biodiversity is indisputably a major element in the larger context of our species' environmental problems, reality demands that we emphasize how biodiversity concerns are entangled with the human predicament generally. In support of this enlarged context, my second suggestion is to compile two lists, one containing things that inspire hope and a second listing things that make hope (or optimism) difficult. With these lists, we can evaluate how our individual efforts contribute to improving the hope-to-despair ratio in the context of the conservation nexus as a whole. We also can suggest promising directions for future research (and funding). In this spirit, I offer the following preliminary lists.

Things that give reason for hope:

  • human ingenuity

  • increasing awareness of the human predicament among the world's peoples

  • increasing awareness of this predicament among national and state governments

  • many successful achievements by nongovernmental organizations and governments

  • rapidly accumulating scientific knowledge of how ecological and social systems work

  • increasing interest in ecologically based economics

  • technological innovations relevant to conservation

  • increasing pubic awareness of ecosystem services

  • energy efficiency improvements

  • development of sustainable energy sources

Things that give reason for despair:

  • accelerating biodiversity losses

  • the human ecological footprint now exceeds estimated biocapacity of the planet

  • continuing human population growth with its inherent inertia

  • human population growth remains a taboo topic for politicians

  • increasing per capita food scarcity and declining fresh water supplies

  • anthropogenic climate change

  • threats of nuclear warfare

  • threats of social disintegration

  • growing demands for energy

  • economic decline and corporate oligarchy

  • increasing consumption per capita

  • political polarization and government paralysis

  • no politically viable alternative to the universal goal of rapid economic growth

  • increasing ignorance of science

  • decreasing support for higher education

  • rising poverty coupled with increasing inequality of wealth distribution

  • terrorism

  • declining marine fisheries

  • increase in infectious diseases

  • growing complexity of the human enterprise requiring an increasing percent of resources devoted to maintenance

William Z. Lidicker Jr. "Hope and Realism in Conservation Biology," BioScience 61(2), 94, (1 February 2011).
Published: 1 February 2011

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