Tuesday, 12 October 2010

El tic-tac de los conservacionistas - The conservationists tic-tac

Bill Adams, is a challenging and insightful person that I recommend to be read, as he always brings to debates a critical perspective over issues encouraging reflection. This fragment of the preface of his book Against Extinction. The Story of Conservation is a must.

"If conservationists have a consistent and shared sense of time, it is one that is oddly broken-up. In my experience their awareness of time falls into three discrete categories. The first might be called, with apologies to Charles Lyell, "deep time". I mean by this, time measured on the geological timescale of millions of years. This scale of time makes humans as a species seem rather trivial arrivists in the long, teeming prehistory of life forms; a steady evolutionary game of planetary proportions in which Homo sapiens appears as a late, sudden and rather destructive disruptive force, whose effects Agent Smith, in the film The Matrix, rather nicely captures when he describes humans as a virus on Earth. Conservationists do this idea of time very well. They understand, through books like Edward Wilson´s The Diversity of Life , the astonishing diversity generated by evolution in the water-thin living skin of the Earth. They also respond in both an intellectual and emotional way to the enormity of the extinction spasm of the last two centuries in the light of previous episodes of destruction through the depth of geological time.

The second scale at which conservationists understand time is their own experience. Those who love nature tend to explain conservation themselves in terms of things they have actually experienced. Mosts conservationists can trace their passion for living things to particular places and times, when they engaged with other species or with landscapes, when what is often called "the wild" reached into the mundane and urban world and touched them. Conservationists remember childhood engagements with nature, and note how they have been sometimes beyond all recognition: lost under tarmac and concrete, devoid all too often it is one of degradation. Scratch a conservationist, and beneath every upbeat line about success stories, there is usually a depressingly downbeat assessment of the retreat of nature over their lifetimes.

The third scale at which conservationists think of time is in the immediate present. It seems that conservation problems are always urgent; everything is a crisis. In books and films, and in the minds of conservationists, nature often faces catastrophe, usually at humans hands. Something always needs to be done, and done at once.

Whatever sense of time conservationists times have, I suggest that they rarely have a good sense of history. They think they know what needs to be done, but in thinking things through, they tend to jump from deep time to their own lives´experience, and then again to the immediate challenge of today without much pause for thought. Often they have little understanding of the way in which problems have come about, or how their predecessors understood similar problems and tried to tackle them. Conservationists often know very little of their own history.


Conservation debates are not really arguments about nature, but rather about ourselves and the way we choose to live. They are moral debates, about the way we cope with our own demands of each other and the biosphere."

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