Conservation in 2016: Are We Asking the Right Questions?
There is an unspoken rule in conservation, and it goes like this: Never criticize the movement. When you look at the modern conservation movement, the roster has evolved into groups that litigate, grassroots organizations, sportsmen groups and a mix of animal focused and wildlife organizations.
The concept (and it is sound,) is that we are far stronger working together than internally fighting. But here’s a question-If all of this is working so well, why then is the planet dying?
It seems that perhaps the time has come for the conservation community to take a harder look at itself and begin to question many of the models we have used to gain success and ask: Are we doing enough?
From Climate change to the loss of habitat and species, we have seen an explosion of destruction on our planet in the past thirty years, a time when the conservation community went from a volunteer operation to a full-time field of employment. In that time we have protected some amazing landscapes, sections of oceans and wildlife that was on the brink.
Yet, we have also seen huge swaths of land destroyed for agriculture, fracking became a new word in our vernacular, coral reefs are dying and our oceans are becoming a place of plastic refuse. Species are disappearing and we cannot get Republicans to even admit there is human caused climate change.
So is it the environmental communities fault? Is there anything else that could be done? The answer it seems to us is that there is perhaps a better path. It begins with the foundation of our cause- protecting our planet.
We have evolved from a movement that was built on dynamic personalities, the Rachael Carson-David Brower-Dave Foreman archetype. These leaders were not content with huge compromise, they wanted to inform and demand justice for the planet. They have been replaced by a movement that seeks compromise, professionalism, and litigation as a means for sustaining workers, benefits and long-term growth like any corporate undertaking.
The concept of “movement” has been replaced by the concept of Me. It is about making my life good, while doing a job, which others see as noble, but doing so without the passion and spirit that once existed in our fight to save the planet.
Conservation like any business is experiencing growing pains and is consumed by too many “consultants” and not enough vision. Here are a few questions worth asking:
Rather than building small environmental empires, would we be better off using a co-op model for the movement that would allow more resources to be spread across a greater area, with more local input?
Is it in our best interest to have cozy relationships with elected officials, or would we be better off, removing ourselves from the lobbying game and simply organize communities and people and create political pressure via honest and direct communication.
Is litigation the best means or only means of victory?
Do we need, as we have in conservation, layers of people working on the same issue, with some being payed far more than others because of their personal relationships with foundations?
Understanding the planet is in serious jeopardy, what is the coordinated plan for protecting it that encompasses population, fossil fuels, ocean protection, climate action, endangered species and large protected areas?
How do we awaken a public that seems lost in sports, the internet and creating their personal fortune?
How do we truly make our movement inclusive and reflective of a nation of immigrants, not a wealthy, white enclave?
How do we deal with the reality that the environment is global and we must make progress not just in the US, but internationally and to do so we must lead by example?
There are perhaps another 50 questions that could be raised, but that is difficult when you work for a cause that shuns questioning its basic operating premise. Our goal is not to undermine the conservation community, but rather to demand more of ourselves, to constantly work to improve how we operate and how we can once again, become more of a movement for the planet.
We don’t have much more time for the status quo: the planet needs our help. We have a responsibility to be great, not just okay. We need like any business to understand how we can be the most effective and how we can work towards a sustainability and respect for all creatures and environments, and for the people that define this place we call home-earth.
That makes questioning ourselves and our objectives a moral imperative.