Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Environmental vs. social, something´s got to give.

In Conservation magazine´s spring issue 2011, Fred Pearce writes a thought provoking article entitled ”Conservation & Poverty”. The topic is the conflict between environmental actions and social actions. Although we would prefer it to be so that conservation actions also brought poverty relief, the article argues that this is many times not the case, and environmental organizations frequently get hammered on this point by sociologists. The article gives the example of the creation of a reserve for apes in Rwanda, and how the hope that indigenous people would benefit from ecotourism as guides fell short, since tourist preferred English speaking scientists as guides. The outcome for the poor people of the forest was forced relocation, but little benefit from the conservation. Although poor people are dependent on biodiversity for their survival, it is often only a few species, and volume is of more importance than diversity the article argues. I would assume one example would be that a hunter is in need of a lot of meet from mostly the same species, not a little bit of everything in the forest.

Here are my thoughts regarding this issue. Although there may be many cases were conservation actions and social actions go hand in hand, it is probably fair to say that this doesn´t always have to be the case. Banning whaling would be great for whale populations, but hardly appreciated by all Eskimos. In the same way social actions can go hand in hand with environmental actions, but they clearly don´t have to. Draining a species rich mire will provide farmland in a developing country, but will clearly not have a positive environmental effect. This doesn´t mean that environmental or social actions should be stopped just because they don´t always provide a win-win situation for the other. Environmental organizations should consider the social consequences of the action, and if the benefits of the action outweigh the costs it should be carried out despite the consequences it may cause. In the same manner organizations involved in social work should consider the environmental consequences of the action, but if the benefits of the action outweighs the costs it should be carried out. We should be glad when we have a win-win situation, but when we don´t we should make sure that we don´t make the best to the enemy of the good.