‘The Inconvenient Environmentalist’ – Peter Kareiva

April 12, 2012 No Comments by Molly

A recent Dot Earth article by Andrew Revkin in the New York Times focuses on Peter Kareiva's provocative views on conservation, the renowned chief scientist of the world’s biggest environmental group, the Nature Conservancy.  

Revkin calls Kareiva the 'inconvenient environmentalist' since he challenges so many unquestioned presumptions about the environment and how it has been portrayed as something delicate to be protected from human actions.  Despite the fact that we all need to change our habits urgently – waste less food & water, reduce CO2 emissions, recycle – he also argues that the Earth is much more resilient that it is often portrayed and that 'horror stories' about environmental disaster are not the way forward.  

His recent essay on conservation and how it needs to change gives an historical overview of the topic and questions the very approach to conservation – is there such a thing as 'pristine nature'?  Must it be 'people vs. land/environmental conservation,' or is there a way to balance the two?  Kareiva would argue the latter:

In the face of these realities, 21st century conservation is changing. Conservationists have taken steps to become more "people friendly" and to attend more seriously to working landscapes. Conservation will likely continue to create parks and wilderness areas, but that will be just one part of the field's larger goals.

The bigger questions for 21st century conservation regard what we will do with the rest of it — the working landscapes, the urban ecosystems, the fisheries and tree plantations, the vast swaths of agricultural monocultures, and the growing expanses of marginal agricultural lands and second growth forests that, as agriculture and forestry become more productive and intensive, are already returning to something that may not be wilderness, but is of conservation value, nonetheless.

As Revkin states, "On and on, he demolishes the mythologies built around the environment as something to be conserved separate from human affairs and the failed tactics and world views of the movement he has been a part of for decades. Kareiva is one of a growing array of leading environmental and ecology scholars and doers who see that new models for thinking and acting are required in this time of the Anthropocene, an era in which Earth is increasingly what humans choose to make it — either through action or inaction."

Peter Kareiva's full article (co-authored with Robert Lalasz and Michelle Marvier) can be found here, along with a well-written summary on the Breakthrough Journal web site that also gives insight.

You can watch the video of a recent Peter Kareiva presentation on the Dot Earth blog or here on YouTube.

Additionally, there is a very interesting article on Greenwire by Paul Voosen: 
Myth-busting scientist pushes greens past reliance on 'horror stories'

Whether one agrees or disagrees, it undoubtedly is a new and challenging way to view the environment and conservation.  

So, tell me – what are your thoughts after reading these articles?  Is this new approach the right way forward?  What implications might it have for agriculture and farming, and what role might conservation agriculture play?



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