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1 February 2011 Reconnecting People to Nature is a Prerequisite for the Future Conservation Agenda: Response from Swaisgood and Sheppard
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We welcome William Lidicker's thoughtful comments on balancing hope and realism. We are glad that our article is fulfilling its intended role of stimulating dialogue and we agree that taking stock of objective reasons for hope and despair will help move conservation goals forward. Clearly, there is more empirical reason for pessimism than hope, in Lidicker's list and in reality. Therefore, we caution against a literal balancing act between hope and despair. Fortunately, Lidicker did not take us down this path; instead, he suggests we use this equation to evaluate “how our individual efforts contribute to improving the hope-to-despair ratio.” This is a useful metric as long as it is kept in proper perspective.

Our point is not that hope is the logical alternative but that it is the necessary alternative—for if we extrapolate the legion scenarios of despair to their conclusion then we are merely fighting with time over an inevitably bleak future. Empirical research by conservation psychologists tells us that if we do not find reason for hope, motivation will falter, and so will conservation action. How can we call to action the next generation of conservation heroes in an atmosphere of defeat?

Here, we raise an additional reason for despair: the growing disconnect between human society and nature. This basal problem underlies several of Lidicker's reasons for despair and threatens to erode public support for environmental issues. That children (and their parents) are spending less time in nature is well documented, placing the discipline—and perhaps the cause—of conservation biology in jeopardy. Television is not likely to inculcate the next generation of conservation professionals—only direct experience in nature can do that. If people don't connect with nature, where will our next generation of environmental stewards come from?

Who better to meet this challenge than conservation professionals? If conservation professionals do not answer this call to action, who will? Public support for science is eroding as the cultural gap between laypeople and scientists, sequestered in their ivory towers, widens. Conservation biology will likewise face a growing divide with the public if people value science and nature less. To address this rising problem head on, conservation professionals will be called upon to engage the public, to reach out and share what they know, believe, and even feel about nature. Conservation professionals can become an important source of inspiration for reconnecting people to nature.

Ronald R. Swaisgood and James Sheppard "Reconnecting People to Nature is a Prerequisite for the Future Conservation Agenda: Response from Swaisgood and Sheppard," BioScience 61(2), (1 February 2011).
Published: 1 February 2011

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