Conservation: The world must change its view of nature

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  • We need to fundamentally change the way we view nature and other species to effectively deal with our extinction crisis, according to a team of experts.
  • Viewing nature and other species as objects and resources for human purposes will never guarantee effective conservation.
  • The best way forward is to broaden the scope of conservation science to explicitly include peoples’ moral obligations to nature.

The accelerating loss of other species around the world is so significant that many experts are now calling it the sixth mass extinction. It is largely due to an unprecedented loss of vital ecosystems such as forests and wetlands, the result of social and economic systems geared towards constant growth.

The latest United Nations Biodiversity Conference, COP15, whose second session is due to take place in October 2022, aims to implement ambitious measures to stem biodiversity loss. The ultimate goal is to establish harmony between man and nature by 2050.

However, in a recent academic paper, we argue that key players such as the body of conservation scientists that produce biodiversity reports for the UN, continue to prioritize human well-being above all else. This prioritization may stem from an anthropocentric culture that generally views humans as separate and more valuable than other species.

To effectively address our extinction crisis, we argue that we need more than just technical advances or policies that remain mired in anthropocentric assumptions. Rather, we need fundamental changes in the way we perceive and value nature and other species.

human supremacy

Anthropocentrism results in the treatment of other species and nature as objects and resources for human purposes. This assumption still underlies the way many people approach conservation.

In environmental science and resource management, the concepts of ‘natural resources’ and ‘ecosystem services’ reflect the prevailing anthropocentric approach to assessing natural value, particularly through economic cost-benefit analyses.

What natural ecosystems can do – for us.

Image: VectorMine/Shutterstock

Such approaches ask how much a given natural feature, such as a forest or an animal species, is worth, and then attempt to assign a monetary value to it. Examples are policies based on trading carbon credits or paying countries not to clear their forests.

Biodiversity loss and climate change are occurring at an unprecedented rate, threatening the very survival of humanity. Nature is in crisis, but there is hope. Investing in nature can not only increase our resilience to socioeconomic and environmental shocks, but also help societies thrive.

There is a strong recognition within the Forum that the future must be net zero and positive for nature. The Nature Action Agenda initiative, within the Platform to Accelerate Nature-Based Solutions, is an inclusive, multi-stakeholder movement that catalyzes economic action to halt biodiversity loss by 2030.

Vibrant and thriving natural ecosystems are the foundation of human well-being and prosperity. The Future of Nature and Business report found that nature-positive transitions in key sectors are good for the economy and could generate up to $10.1 trillion in annual business value and create 395 million jobs. 2030.

To support these transitions, the Nature-Based Solutions Acceleration Platform has brought together a community of Nature Champions promoting the sustainable management of the planet for the good of the economy and society. The Nature Action Agenda also recently launched the 100 million farmers initiative, which will drive the transition of the food and agricultural system to a regenerative model, as well as the BiodiverCities initiative by 2030 to create a model of urban development in harmony with nature.

Contact us if you would like to collaborate in these efforts or join one of our communities.

Biodiversity scientists are still human-centric

COP15 will be partly informed by the work of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the conservation scientists’ equivalent of the IPCC’s group of climatologists. The most recent IPBES Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, published in 2019, promotes the term “nature’s contributions to people” as a more inclusive framework for capturing natural value beyond simple economic indicators.

The stated objective is to emphasize that nature and other species are “not just commodities” and to highlight the range of nature’s contributions, both material and immaterial, to “the quality of life of people “.

The report is commendable for attempting to include a wider range of worldviews and environmental values ​​as the basis for biodiversity conservation. We maintain, however, that its approach remains human-centric. Non-human species are still valued only instrumentally, according to what they can bring us.

The relationship between humans and natural entities is always centered on the perceived usefulness of other species in helping humans lead a “good life”. There is no explicit reference to the good life of our earthly parents, to what they might need to prosper.

The report also fails to defend the inherent value of all people on Earth. We believe this is a profound flaw for any platform that seeks to promote the fundamental cultural transformations needed to achieve the UN’s goal of “harmony with nature” by 2050.

Towards ecocentric conservation

An alternative would be to expand the science and policy focus on conservation of ‘ecosystem services’ and ‘nature’s contributions to people’ to explicitly include people’s moral obligations to nature. We argue that this would require a shift towards ecocentrism, a moral view in which every species and ecosystem type is seen to have intrinsic value.

This type of moral sentiment, which is based on much religious and philosophical work, essentially means that non-human organisms and environmental systems have value in themselves, and not just as means to human ends.

pictures of animals are printed on money, symbolizing how we only place monetary value on the natural world

How to promote wild animals?

Image: Andrzej Rostek/Shutterstock

From this perspective, we would ask ourselves not only what nature can do for us, but also how we can contribute to the health and resilience of the entire biosphere and all the living beings that animate it. With this approach, we would also wonder how we can ensure that other species have what they need to have a “good life” too.

Resources to relatives

Motives matter. If we continue to value nature and other species solely on the basis of what they can give us, we will not be able to radically transform our relationship with them. Their lives are priceless and their loss cannot be quantified or recovered. After all, extinction is forever. Their proliferating absence not only threatens our existence, it constitutes a serious ethical breach.

As the final session of COP15 approaches, it is essential to recognize that the innovative policies that are needed to prevent biological annihilation cannot be rooted in entirely anthropocentric premises. An adequate response to the biodiversity crisis requires a fundamental shift in our values ​​in which we view other species as relatives and all of Earth’s diverse environmental systems as inherently valuable.


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