Bringing Together Social Justice And Biodiversity Conservation
Environmental conservation is a noble pursuit, but in many parts of the world it suffers from a deep public relations problem. The prevailing critique is that many conservation projects are spearheaded by “Western elites” who do not consider how projects may negatively impact livelihoods and traditional practices. Indeed, if you search our Faunalytics archive, many articles that we’ve covered on conservation discuss the need to respond to community needs and work with local inhabitants to develop and implement projects. Although such articles may not explicitly use the term “social justice” to describe such an approach, they describe a conservation policy that incorporates both environmental and social justice.
This article is an attempt to describe the “division between generalized schools of philosophical and ethical thought about culture and conservation.” The authors acknowledge that conservation groups, social scientists, and biologists often disagree about the goals of and approaches to conservation, but note that these disagreements are based largely on mutual misunderstandings. As such, they propose alternative ethics and research activities for these groups and encourage collaboration to reconcile environmental justice for humans and ecological justice for non-human species.
The authors describe a tension in the field of conservation between those who see a necessity to incorporate the livelihoods and practices of local communities in projects and those who see conservation primarily as a means to protect non-human life. This tension can run so deep that “some social scientists have allowed their focus on human communities to preclude their participation in conservation.”
Notably, the authors point out that “the inverse relationship between human interests and ecosystem well-being bears remarkable resemblance to instances of colonial, racial, and gender inequalities in which one group prospers at the expense of the other.” To counter this pattern, the authors believe that a first step forward is for social scientists, biodiversity-focused conservation groups, and biological scientists to express a willingness to work together on projects.
This article will appeal to advocates who are interested in holistic approaches to conservation that benefit both ecological and human communities. While the authors here do not describe specific conservation practices or policies, they recommend that conservationists and social scientists approach projects together, on a case by case basis, recognizing that the most effective solutions are tailored to individual species, ecosystems, and communities.