Multiple Personality Disorder in Conservationists

Originally published by Rafe on Evolution: This View of Life
Okay, so I’m a bit of a Michelle Nijhuis fan, but once again, she’s got her finger on the pulse of a critical debate, and also correctly notes that the pristine nature vs. managed natural systems argument is a bit of a false dichotomy: It seems to me and an informal group of Facebook friends with whom I’ve been discussing this that how you fall with regard to how and why to practice conservation—as a pragmatist, an idealist, an optimist, or a “the whole things already gone to hell anyway, so I’m just going bowling” pessimist—depends on the day of the week, your mood, what the latest presidential poll numbers say, etc. Some have characterized this debate as E.O. Wilson vs. Emma Marris, or, as I did in a recent post on conservation triage, Pimm vs. Possingham, but the truth is that I’ve seen Stuart Pimm and E.O. Wilson act very pragmatically and I know that Hugh Possingham and Emma Marris have a healthy dose of the same “biophilia” that drives Wilson, and the righteous indignation at what we’re doing to the planet that gets Stuart Pimm all blustery. So, are you an idealist or a pragmatist? Yes. An optimist or a pessimist? Yes. I think we need it all.

About Rafe

Rafe Sagarin is a marine ecologist and environmental policy analyst at the University of Arizona. In both his science and policy work, Sagarin connects basic observations of nature to issues of broad societal interest, including conservation biology, protecting public trust resources, and making responses to terrorism and other security threats more adaptable. Dr. Sagarin is a recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship and has recently published two books, Learning from the Octopus (Basic Books, March 2012) and Observation and Ecology (Island Press, July 2012), which show how nature observation--when extended across large scales and enhanced with both new technologies and greater deference to traditional knowledge sources—is revealing profound new insights about our dynamic social and ecological world. He was a Geological Society of America Congressional Science Fellow in the office of U.S. Representative (and later U.S. Secretary of Labor) Hilda Solis. He has taught ecology and environmental policy at Duke University, California State University Monterey Bay, Stanford University, University of California, Los Angeles and University of Arizona. His research has appeared in Science, Nature, Conservation Biology, Ecological Monographs, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Foreign Policy, Homeland Security Affairs and other leading journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the editor, with Terence Taylor of the volume Natural Security: A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World (2008, University of California Press).
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