John Muir’s last stand

Tom Butler and Eileen Crist write: In this centennial anniversary of Muir’s death, it is disturbing, but not surprising, that the man and his legacy are suffering the slings and arrows of critics. These attacks are concurrent with an ongoing assault on traditional conservation ideas and tactics from some academics, think tanks, and practitioners affiliated with large nonprofits. This body of thinkers, variously called “new conservationists,” “eco-pragmatists,” or “postmodern greens,” have articulated a set of views about where they think conservation should go in the so-called Anthropocene, the new epoch of human dominion. Wilderness preservation is not on their wish list this Christmas, though corporate partnerships are.

The postmodern greens aim to reorient conservation’s primary focus away from establishing protected areas intended to help prevent human-caused extinctions and to sustain large-scale natural ecosystems. Instead, they advocate sustainable management of the biosphere to support human aspirations, particularly for a growing global economy. If some species go extinct that may be regrettable, goes their thinking, but the bottom line is that nature is resilient. As long as “working landscapes” (places we manipulate to produce commodities) are managed well enough to sustain “ecosystem services” (things like water filtration, soil health, and crop pollination), human welfare can be supported without lots of new protected areas (habitat for other species) getting in the way of economic growth.

Some of the most prominent of these new conservationists have warned against critiquing the techno-industrial growth economy that is everywhere gobbling up wild nature. “Instead of scolding capitalism,” they write, “conservationists should partner with corporations in a science-based effort to integrate the value of nature’s benefits into their operations and cultures.” [Continue reading…]

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