Conservation management as an applied aspect of cultural ecology

To the extent that we have genuine respect for the natural world and the living things in it, the conflict between human civilization and the natural world is not an uncontrolled and uncontrollable struggle for survival. From an ethical standpoint, the competition between human cultures and the natural ways of other species can exemplify a moral order that can best be described as 'live and let live'. To realise this order, we as moral agents have to impose constraints on our own lifestyles and cultural practices to create a moral universe in which both respect for wild creatures and respect for persons are given a place. The more we take for ourselves, the less there is for other species, but there is no reason why, together with humans, a great variety of animal and plant life cannot exist side by side on our planet. In order to share the Earth with other species, however, we humans must impose limits on our population, our habits of consumption, and our technology. In particular, we have to deal with serious moral dilemmas posed by the competing interests of humans and nonhumans. The problems of choice take on an ethical dimension but do not entail giving up or ignoring our human values. The aim is to manage situations in which the basic interests of animals and plants are in conflict with the non basic interests of humans.

Basic interests
Basic interests of humans are what rational and factually enlightened people would value as an essential part of their very existence as persons. They are what people need if they are going to be able to pursue those goals and purposes that make life meaningful and worthwhile. Their basic interests are those interests which, when morally legitimate, they have a right to have fulfilled. We do not have a right to whatever will make us happy or contribute to the realization of our value system but we do have a right to the necessary conditions for the maintenance and development of our person-hood. These conditions include subsistence and security ("the right to life"), autonomy, and liberty. A violation of people's moral rights is the worst thing that can happen to them, since it deprives them of what is essential to their being able to live a meaningful and worthwhile existence as persons.

Non-basic interests
Our non-basic interests define our individual value systems. They are the particular ends we consider worth seeking and the means we consider best for achieving them. The non- basic interests of humans thus vary from person to person, while their basic interests are common to all.
The principles of conservation apply to two different kinds of conflicts in which the basic interests of animals and plants conflict with the nonbasic interests of humans. But each principle applies to a different type of nonbasic human interests. In order to differentiate between these types we must consider various ways in which the nonbasic interests of humans are related to the attitude of respect for nature.

First, there are nonbasic human interests which are intrinsically incompatible with the attitude of respect for nature. The pursuit of these interests would be given up by anyone who had respect for nature because the kind of actions and intentions directly embody or express an exploitative attitude toward nature. Such an attitude is incompatible with that of respect because it considers wild creatures to have merely instrumental value for human ends and denies the inherent worth of animals and plants in natural ecosystems. Examples of such non- basic exploitative interests and of actions performed are:-
  • Slaughtering elephants so the ivory of their tusks can be used to carve items for the tourist trade.
  • Killing rhinoceros so that their horns can be used as dagger handles.
  • Picking rare wildflowers, such as orchids and cactuses, for one's private collection.
  • Capturing tropical birds, for sale as caged pets.
  • Trapping and killing reptiles, such as snakes, crocodiles, alligators, and turtles, for their skins and shells to be used in making expensive shoes, handbags, and other "fashion" products.
  • Hunting and killing rare wild mammals, such as leopards and jaguars, for the luxury fur trade.

All hunting and fishing which is done as an enjoyable pastime (whether or not the animals killed are eaten), when such activities are not necessary to meet the basic interests of humans. This includes all sport hunting and recreational. All such practices treat wild creatures as mere instruments to human ends, thus denying their inherent worth. They are non basic. Wild animals and plants are being valued only as a source. Their central purposes represent an exploitative attitude towards nature. Those who participate to fullfil the aims of such activities as well as those who enjoy or consume the products knowing the methods by which they were obtained, cannot be said to have genuine respect for nature.

It should be noted that none of the actions violate human rights. Indeed, if we stay within the boundaries of human ethics alone, people have a moral right to do such things, since they have a freedom-right to pursue without interference their legitimate interests and, within those boundaries, an interest is "legitimate" if its pursuit does not involve doing any wrong to another human being.

It is only when the principles of environmental ethics are applied to such actions that the exercise of freedom-rights in these cases must be weighed against the demands of the ethics of respect for nature. We then find that the practices in question are wrong, all things considered. For if they were judged permissible, the basic interests of animals and plants would be assigned a lower value or importance than the nonbasic interests of humans. No one who had the attitude of respect for nature (as well as the attitude of respect for persons) would find this acceptable. After all, a human being can still live a good life even if he or she does not own caged wild birds, wear apparel made from furs and reptile skins, collect rare wildflowers, or engage in recreational hunting.

Principle of distributive justice
The principle principle of distributive justice provides the criteria for managing a just distribution of interest- fulfillment among all parties to a conflict when the interests are all basic and hence of equal importance to those involved. Being of equal importance, they are counted as having the same moral weight. This equality of weight must be preserved in .the conflict-resolving decision if it is to be fair to all. The principle of distributive justice requires that when the interests of the parties are all basic ones and there exists a natural source of good that can be used for the benefit of any of the parties, each party must be allotted an equal share.

The amount of arable land needed for raising grain and other plants as food for those animals that are in turn to be eaten by humans is much greater compared with the amount of land needed for raising grain and other plants for direct human consumption. Consider, for example, the fact that in order to produce one pound of protein for human consumption, a steer must be fed 21 pounds of protein, all from plant sources. For pork the ratio is 8.3 pounds to one and for poultry, 5.5 pounds. When spelled out in terms of the acreage of land required, one acre of cereal grains to be used as human food can produce five times more protein than one acre used for meat production; one acre of legumes (peas, lentils, and beans) can produce ten times more; and one acre of leafy vegetables fifteen times more. So the case for vegetarianism based on the attitude of respect for nature comes down to the following: We can drastically reduce the amount of cultivated land needed for human food production by changing from a meat-eating culture to a vegetarian culture. The land thus saved could be set aside as sanctuaries for wildlife, in accordance with the idea of permanent habitat allocation to be discussed below. Ultimately, far less destruction of natural ecosystems than is now taking place would result. Vegetarians, in short, use much less of the surface of the Earth to sustain themselves than do meat- eaters. And the less humans use for themselves the more there is for other species.

Principle of distributive justice
This principle provides the criteria for managing a just distribution of interest- fulfillment among all parties to a conflict when the interests are all basic and hence of equal importance to those involved. It applies to circumstances where it is possible for humans to make certain adjustments in their relations to wild animals and plants, even when their basic interests are in conflict. In these circumstances some approaches to equality of treatment between humans and nonhumans can be realized by transforming situations of rivalry and competition into patterns of mutual accommodation and tolerance.

These approaches are: (i) permanent habitat allocation, (ii) common conservation, (iii) environmental integration, and (iv) rotation.
(i) Permanent habitat allocation. This method involves setting aside certain land and water areas of the Earth's surface to be "forever wild." It is the familiar policy of wilderness preservation. The justification for such a policy lies in the fact that only by means of it can at least some of the world's wild communities of life continue their existence in a more or less natural state and so receive their share of the benefits of the Earth's physical environment.

(ii) Common conservation. The method of common conservation is the sharing of resources while they are being used by both humans and nonhumans. If people have built a town in a desert or other area where there is a very limited supply of water, the policy of common conservation would mean that humans share the water supply with other species-populations that need it for their survival. The plants of the desert as well as the birds, reptiles, insects, and mammals that live there are all recognized as legitimate users of the water supply along with people. The basic idea is that we do not take it all for ourselves but leave some of it for others, who need it as much as we do.

Conservation is a human practice, but it need not be carried on for the benefit of humans alone. There is nothing in the meaning of conservation that excludes its being done to help other creatures further their well-being. As moral agents we have the freedom to choose to make available to others a portion of a natural resource that we also must use for our own good. Conserving a resource, whether it is renewable or nonrenewable, means using it carefully and wisely, saving some for the future when it will be needed as much as at present. None of it is wasted or rendered unfit for use by pollution. Common conservation refers to a human practice of sharing the use of a resource with other beings, conserving it for the mutual benefit of all.

(iii) Environmental integration. This is the deliberate attempt to fit human construction and "developments" into natural surroundings in a way that preserves the ecological integrity of a region as a whole. Office buildings and stores, factories and warehouses, hotels and motels, houses and apartment complexes, airports and highways, schools and libraries, bridges and tunnels, and other large-scale human artifacts are designed and located with a view to avoiding serious ecological disturbance and environmental degradation. Natural areas in the region that are essential for ecological stability are left unmodified. Thus certain habitats used by wild species- populations are not destroyed, and some wildlife is given a chance to survive alongside the works of human culture.

(iv) Rotation. The fourth method of distributing benefits fairly is the method of rotation or "taking turns." The rule is that whenever possible we should give the species-populations of a wild biotic community their chance at receiving benefits from inhabiting a particular sector of the Earth's natural environment if we humans have also benefited, for a period of time. It is only fair that humans and nonhumans take turns at having access to favorable environments and habitats. We might think of this as time allocation, for a given place, to contrast it with the method of permanent wilderness preservation, which is a form of space allocation.

The general scheme of a rotation system works as follows. Suppose there is an area of the natural environment that can be used for satisfying the basic interests of a certain number of humans for a limited time without destroying the biological soundness of the ecology of that area. The environment and its living inhabitants are treated in such a way that it is possible at a later time for a wild community of life to satisfy its basic interests in the area. By occupying the area at different time periods, both humans and nonhumans can meet basic needs.

International effort
Conserving natural resources is about using less and managing stocks to ensure they are renewable and an even flow is carried forward into the long-term. This philosophy was endorsed by the international community in towards the end of the 1980s.

For example;
  • the Governing Council of UNEP, the UN Environment Programme, in its decision 15/2 of 1989, "invites the attention of the General Assembly to the understanding of the Governing Council with regard to the concept of "sustainable development", as follows: "Statement by the Governing Council on Sustainable Development"

  • "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and does not imply in any way encroachment upon national sovereignty. The Governing Council considers that the achievement of sustainable development involves co- operation within and across national boundaries. It implies progress toward national and international equity, including assistance to developing countries in accordance with their national development plans, priorities and objectives. It implies, further, the existence of a supportive international economic environment that would result in sustained economic growth and development in all countries, particularly in developing countries, which is of major importance for sound management of the environment. It also implies the maintenance, rational use and enhancement of the natural resource base that underpins ecological resilience and economic growth. Sustainable development further implies incorporation of environmental concern and considerations in development planning and policies, and does not represent a new form of conditionality in aid or development financing.' "—Official Records of the General Assembly, Forty-first Session, Supplement No. 25 (A/4425), UNEP/GC, 15/12 decision 15/2, Annex II.

If developing countries had been required to meet the environmental standards that prevailed in the United States, they would have incurred direct pollution control costs of $5.5 billion in 1980 with respect to their exports of manufactures to OECD countries, which amounted to 848 billion. In addition, it has been estimated that, if the pollution control expenditures associated with the materials that went into the final product were also counted, the costs would have risen to $14.2 billion. This is probably an underestimate, as it relates only to the impact of environmental pollution and does not allow for the costs of soil degradation, deforestation, desertification and other deterioration of resources. Source: A/42/42y, Annex.
"There is general agreement that if present emissions trends continue, a rise of global mean temperature could occur in the first half of the next century that would be greater than any in the history of civilization." "The Full Range of Responses to Anticipated Climatic Change", UNEP and the Beijer Institute, April 1989, p. xi.