A Political Ecologist’s Perspective on Conservation Conflicts

Political ecology is defined by Adams as "the political processes and structures which determines who uses nature, how they use it, and with what outcomes".

Here’s a great video from the ACES2011 Conservation Conflicts conference, held in Aberdeen, Scotland last year.

This particular talk is from Bill Adams, a renowned political ecologist based at Cambridge, who has done a lot of work on the conservation-development interface.  I met Bill in Auckland last year at a workshop on conservation conflicts that he and Steve Redpath organised as part of the ICCB.

Probably one of his most well known papers (or at least the one I refer to most) examined the links between efforts to reduce poverty and conservation, and argued that a straightforward relationship between the two isn’t always clear.

In the video, Bill argues that conservation is inherently political – as a debate about conservation is a debate about how people should live. A simple example is the designation of protected areas: it’s not just a matter of where is most ecologically important, or the most cost-effective to protect. Forgetting or ignoring the needs of people who actually live in these places will always lead to conflict, so conservation is as much of a social, political and economic process as it is ecological.

One part which I found interesting was the reference to the ‘neoliberalisation of nature’, which Bill described as the belief that the market is the only approach that is available or feasible to ensure biodiversity is conserved in the long term. Bram Büscher and David Ehrenfeld have both written critiques of the influence of neoliberal thought on conservation, as I’m sure many other political ecologists have also.

According to Bill, “…neoliberal conservationists try to replace political debate about what should be done, with a technical argument about inevitability. They don’t get rid of it, but rather just hide the political aspects – and this is dangerous thing.”

To me, this suggests that as conservation scientists, we need to be honest in recognising that conservation is inherently social and political, and that we need to think critically what is the best approaches to conserve nature in a particular context – rather than just assuming the market will cure all.

Related literature:

Adams, W. M., Aveling, R., Brockington, D., Dickson, B., Elliott, J., Hutton, J., Roe, D., et al. (2004). Biodiversity Conservation and the Eradication of Poverty. Science, 306(5699), 1146-1149. doi:10.1126/science.1097920

Büscher, B. E. (2008). Conservation, Neoliberalism, and Social Science: a Critical Reflection on the SCB 2007 Annual Meeting in South Africa. Conservation Biology, 22(2), 229-231. DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.00894.x 

Ehrenfeld, D. (2008). Neoliberalization of Conservation. Conservation Biology, 22(5), 1091-1092. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01049.x

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s