Main content area

Half the earth for people (or more)? Addressing ethical questions in conservation

Kopnina, Helen
Biological conservation 2016 v.203 pp. 176-185
biodiversity, biologists, conservation areas, human communities, human population, humans, population growth, social justice, wildlife
Preserving global biodiversity depends upon designating many more large terrestrial and marine areas as strictly protected areas. Yet recent calls for addressing biodiversity loss by setting aside more protected areas have been met with hostility from some social scientists and even some conservation biologists. The main objections against the so-called 'nature needs half' movement include the following. First, setting aside protected areas implies that some vulnerable human communities will be displaced to make space for wildlife. Second, separating humans from their environment ignores the fact that humans have always been part of the environments around them, and creates a false dichotomy between nature and culture. Third, conservationists are said to put the blame for biodiversity loss on all humanity, rather than on those who are doing most of the damage. Fourth, many social justice proponents argue that human population growth is not related to biodiversity loss or other sustainability challenges. This article critically addresses these four objections, exposing their robust anthropocentric bias. Protected area critics reliably demand fairness for human beings at the expense of nonhuman beings, who they treat as morally inconsequential. But justice is not only about just us. Conservation properly understood implies a fair division of Earth's resources between human and nonhuman beings. Justice demands setting aside at least half Earth's lands and seas for nature, free from intensive economic activities.