The Evolving Challenges of Conservation

In an effort to preserve the immense biodiversity on our planet, conservation efforts have traditionally focused on individual species as part of a reactive approach to dwindling population numbers. However, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List Index shows that most of the species numbers are still declining, despite these targeted conservation efforts. Given this, conservationists and Earth Day Network are seeking new ways to solve this ongoing challenge in the face of new and evolving threats like climate change.

Jon Hoekstra, Chief Scientist and Vice President at World Wildlife Fund, talks about a “pivot” in which conservationists must rotate 180-degrees to “face the future.” Naturally, the world changes and progresses, and conservationists, like the rest of us, must anticipate how to meet future needs, rather than look backwards and consider past needs. Hoekstra argues that constructing a new conservation plan designed to reflect future challenges is more sustainable and mutually beneficial for both human and animal needs. For example, the creation of mosaic landscapes that provide food for people and habitable environments for plant and animal life, while at the same time combats climate change, is one possible proactive response conservationists might consider.

Furthermore, there has also been a shift in the way conservationists determine the best way to protect the natural world. In the past, the debate focused on why we should we save the environment. More recently, the questions guiding the field of conservation have been what we should save and how should we go about it. This shift began to take place as the predominant view became that conservation efforts should be centered on how human adaptations to climate change will affect nature and the species within it. This preemptive approach will be comprehensive and efficient. The Breakthrough Institute published, “Conservation in the Anthropocene”, in which the authors urge us to “forge a more optimistic, human friendly vision…a new vision of a planet in which nature – forests, wetlands, diverse species, and other ancient ecosystems – exists amid a wide variety of modern, human landscapes.”

Another tactic to improve conservation efforts is to change the mindset of consumers: to redirect and halt the consumer’s demand for highly prized natural commodities like ivory. Instead of repeating “the same thing even louder”, Kent Redford, a conservation biologist, stressed the importance of understanding the human mindset through behavioral psychology. Trade-offs will occur but linking human development and conservation efforts will mutually benefit the earth in the long run. It’s about setting the agenda, rather than reacting to it.

To learn more about Earth Day Network’s elephant conservation project in India, check out: http://www.earthday.org/campaign-protect-asian-elephant. Be proactive in Asian elephant conservation and donate today!