Peter Kareiva, the chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, recently gave a seminar at the Long Now Foundation. His talk was summarized by Stewart Brand:

Kareiva began by recalling the environmental “golden decade” of 1965-75, set in motion by the scientist Rachel Carson. In quick succession Congress created the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act—which passed the Senate unanimously.

Green influence has been dwindling ever since. A series of polls in the US asked how many agreed with the statement, “Most environmentalists are extremists, not reasonable people.” In 1996, 32% agreed. In 2004, 43% agreed. Now it’s over 50% who think environmentalists are unreasonable.

Kareiva noted that as the world is urbanizing, ever fewer people grow up in contact with nature—current college freshman have less than a tenth of the childhood experience of nature as previous generations. And there’s a demographic shift toward multiethnicity, with whites already a minority in California and soon to be a minority in the whole country. Asked to describe a typical environmentalist, current grade school students say it’s a girl, white, with money, preachy about recycling, nice but uptight, not sought as a friend.

In general, environmentalist have earned the reputation of being “misanthropic, anti-technology, anti-growth, dogmatic, purist, zealous, exclusive pastoralists.”

Kareiva gave several examples of how that reputation was earned. In Green rhetoric, everything in nature is described as “fragile!”—rivers, forests, the whole planet. It’s manifestly untrue. America’s eastern forest lost two of its most dominant species—the american chestnut and the passenger pigeon—and never faltered. Bikini Atoll was vaporized in an H-bomb test that boiled the ocean. When National Geographic sent a research team there recently, they found 25% more coral than was ever there before. The Deepwater Horizon oil disaster last year caused dramatically less harm to salt marshes and fisheries than expected, apparently because ocean bacteria ate most of the 5 million barrels of oil.

The problem with the fragility illusion is that it encourages a misplaced purism, leaving no room for compromise or negotiation, and it leads to “fortress conservation”—the idea that the only way to protect “fragile” ecosystems is to exclude all people. In Uganda, when a national park was established to protect biodiversity, 5,000 families were forced out of the area. After a change in government, those families returned in anger. To make sure they were never forced out again, they slaughtered all the local wildlife. In the 1980s, Kareiva was a witness in Seattle for protecting old growth forest (and spotted owls). At the courtroom loggers carried signs reading: “You care about owls more than my children.” That jarred him.

When genetically engineered crops (GMOs) came along, environmentalists responded with “knee-jerk anti-technology religiosity,” Kareiva said. How to feed the world was not a consideration. Lessening the overwhelming impact of agriculture on natural systems was not a consideration. Instead, the usual apocalyptic fears were deployed in the usual terms: EVERYTHING’S GOING TO BE DEAD TOMORROW! When Kareiva was working on protecting salmon, he saw the same kind of language employed in a 1999 New York Times full-page ad about dams in the Snake River: TIMELINE TO EXTINCTION! He knew it wasn’t true. Salmon are a weedy species, and the re-engineered dams were letting the fish through.

The Nature Conservancy—where Kareiva is chief scientist working with the organization’s 600 scientists, 4,000 staff, and one million members in 37 countries—promotes a realistic approach to conservation. Instead of demonizing corporations, they collaborate actively with them. They’ve decided to do the same with farmers, starting an agriculture initiative within the Conservancy. For the growing cities they emphasize the economic value of conservation in terms of valuable clean water and air. They started a program taking inner-city kids out to their field conservation projects not to play but to work on research and restoration. An astonishing 30% of those kids go on to major in science.

Kareiva sees conservation in this century as a profoundly social, cooperative undertaking that has to include everyone. New social networking tools can be in the thick of it. For instance, people could use their smartphones to photograph (and geotag, timestamp, and broadcast) the northernmost occurrence of bird species, and the aggregate data could be graphed in real time, showing the increasing effects of global warming on the natural world. When everyone makes science like that, everyone owns it. They’ve invested.

–Stewart Brand

Comments

  1. Nice job!
    Keep up comming the good work!

  2. #2 Diet Plan
    August 9, 2011

    it’s true that some green guys are extremist thus create rebellious individual. I believe everything should have a balance.
    it’s the economy that that the 3rd world country is stressing that they destroy their forest BUT the green guys are protesting so fiercely that upset people. I believe the goverment should step up and balance out the whole thing.
    This is just my opinion

  3. #3 Healthy Weight Loss Foods
    August 9, 2011

    I think to preserve our lovely earth is very difficult. It’s because of Politics. For example, How much crude Oil is spilled to the ocean yearly? Anyone take action? How much rain forest is being logged yearly? How many whales are killed yearly? I can go on and on.
    When Green peace protesting, it looks like nobody cares. It’s you and me that can make the different? How? Just a couple point for you to ponder.

  4. #4 body slim
    August 4, 2011

    I like environmental groups like Greenpeace who prevent the Japanese fishermen from ensnaring dolphins in their nets, killing them outright as collateral damage.

  5. #5 Ihm
    July 26, 2011

    BTW The video is available for free on foratv:
    http://fora.tv/2011/06/27/Peter_Kareiva_Conservation_in_the_Real_World

  6. #6 Ed Darrell
    July 14, 2011

    From the description offered, the Endangered Species Act passed the Senate on the consent calendar — not unanimously. I suppose it’s a distinction mostly wonks would appreciate, but “consensus” doesn’t mean “unanimity,” nor does Senate final passage on the consent calendar mean there were no bitter fights on the thing.

    Neil, you’d do well to read some real history on the movement:

    Despite being welcomed by juvenile “leftists” due to the failure of traditional socialism, “environmentalism” has always been a movement of the middle classes worried about the common people eating into their position. This was also the position of the original Luddites.

    Luddites? Socialism? The founders of environmental concern in our nation include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Thoreau, John Chapman, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, the Rockefellers especially the third-generation’s Winthrop and Laurance, John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, Frederick Law Olmsted, Thomas Moran, Theodore Roosevelt, U. S. Grant, Calvin Coolidge, Stephen Mather, Horace Albright, Aldo Leopold, Garret Hardin, James West, Dan Beard, William Penn Mott (of the GM Motts), Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, Frank Bogert, Mo and Stu Udall, and a host of others.

    They were rampant capitalists, each of them. Many were accused of rapacious capitalism. None was a socialist, none was a Luddite.

    Your claims against environmentalism are not just in error, but they are a grand construction of intentional falsehood. No one could be familiar with any part of the history of the environmental movement in the U.S. without knowing that.

    They could be called capitalists, they might be called ruthless capitalists, they could be called visionaries, they might be called philanthropists or poets or artists or public servants — but not socialists, not Luddites.

    So, either you’re making stuff up because you don’t have a clue, or . . . well, let’s not go there.

    Let it suffice to say your premises are 100%, 180 degrees wrong. Start over, please.

    Environmental protection is a product of leisure time and capitalist wealth. You don’t know at all what you’re talking about.

  7. I like environmental groups like Greenpeace who prevent the Japanese fishermen from ensnaring dolphins in their nets, killing them outright as collateral damage. Nature will of course go on, but we are rapidly changing it into a boring, much less diverse, less robust monoculture and making it harder to heal itself.

  8. #8 Pierce R. Butler
    July 2, 2011

    Neil Craig @ # 22 – Interesting, in a boring sort of way.

    You “support” your claim with a link to your own blog, the relevant assertion on same being supported by a link to another (also wingnut-flavored) blog post, written in 2007 by someone named … Richard. And who doesn’t back his claim by naming or linking to an independent – never mind “reliable” – source.

    An accurate description of what I, and we, “owe” Richard (and you) would certainly run afoul of the restrictions on language and tone imposed by our esteemed host on her blog.

  9. #9 Neil Craig
    July 1, 2011

    Also a full day since any of the ecofascists have even been rude about my asking questions. Obviously no real atempt at answering.

    PS Here is a particularly egregious example of ecofascist grouops existing to get subsidy, that you attacked Richard for not producing.

    Friends of the Earth Europe is largely funded by EU governments for the purpose of lobbying and publicly pushing the need for more EU governmental controls & bureaucracy.
    http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2007/10/funding-of-environmentallobbyists.html

    Plwase acknowledge that you owe Richard an apology.

    PPS I think he was probably overly kind about Greenpeace.

  10. #10 Pierce R. Butler
    June 30, 2011

    Gee Richard, it’s been over 24 hours. Some of us may end up drawing the conclusion that you were just babbling wingnut propaganda and didn’t know what you were talking about – while the rest of us suspect you were lying like a Bush from the start…

  11. #11 Neil Craig
    June 30, 2011

    David Jensen ably demonstrates exactly why the ecofascists deserve the term. He merely, rudely, asserts that I am wrong, on this and on alleged catastrophic warming which I had not mentioned here, without making the slightest attempt to provide reasons. To be fair to him persopnally this “shut up, he explained” attitude seems endemic on “scienceblogs” and among technophobes generally.

  12. #12 Pierce R. Butler
    June 29, 2011

    Ed Darrell @ # 3: … deep, bitter fights over the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and especially the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

    The ever-helpful Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association sayeth:

    The bill passed the Senate on December 19 by voice vote and the House of Representatives on December 20 by a vote of 355 to 4.

    Richard @ # 16: Found anything to support yr Limbaughesque claims yet?

  13. #13 a reader
    June 29, 2011

    While I agree that environmentalists have to work in cooperation with society and business to protect nature…how is that in an age when the rate of human caused extinction is accelerating to levels not seen in millions of years;the resilence of ocean and fresh water ecosystems are being seriously compromised;invasive and often harmful species are replacing natives, absolutely necessary pollinators are disappearing; ground water is being depleted and polluted etc;…environmenatlists are now the unreasonable ones?

    Their pleas to implement some sanity and wisdom to the often ignorant,reckless and wasteful path that humanity has been on for centuries is to me a enlightened cause for rationality in a world that has become mostly focused on short-term gratification and self-absorbed thinking.

    Nature will of course go on, but we are rapidly changing it into a boring, much less diverse, less robust monoculture and making it harder to heal itself. Humans have spent the last ten thousand years taking more and more from nature and returning less. And yet environmentalists are the ones who are irrational and extreme?

    In my view most envirnomentalists and conservationists have been trying to restore and achieve a much needed balance lacking during most of modern human history.

  14. #14 Pierce R. Butler
    June 29, 2011

    Richard @ # 16: Pls cite specific examples, with supporting evidence via links to reliable sources.

  15. #15 Richard
    June 29, 2011

    I like environmental groups like Greenpeace who prevent the Japanese fishermen from ensnaring dolphins in their nets, killing them outright as collateral damage. And the brutal killing of seal pups. And there are many environmental groups who make positive changes in our world to improve mankind. But nowadays, there are a not of “fly-by-night” so-called green groups that are organized just to get government grants and get donations, and file frivolous lawsuits to get rich. They profess to be saving the planet and protecting the human population when they are actually in it just for the money. They “ambulance chase” fringe causes that in the end, really damages progress instead of improve it.

  16. #16 GregH
    June 29, 2011

    Ewan R.: You’re right, and I think we’re on the same page. My comment was in place of a lengthy essay that I don’t have time to edit.

    Rork: I don’t know about the salmon, but his comment about the Gulf oil spill is similarly off the mark.

    “The Deepwater Horizon oil disaster last year caused dramatically less harm to salt marshes and fisheries than expected, apparently because ocean bacteria ate most of the 5 million barrels of oil.”

    I don’t thing there’s any evidence for this counterintuitive claim, and I’m pretty sure it’s based on an early press release from BP. How about an article that claims the complete opposite? Is this how cooperation works?

  17. #17 David Jensen
    June 29, 2011

    Neil Craig doesn not have the slightest idea what he’s talking about in regard to the Luddites. Or global climate change for that matter.

    Jesse is pretty much on the mark, although it is an understatement to observe that matters are rather more complicated than Brand acknowledges. To put it mildly. Brand seems to have entered into a Candide phase some years ago and shows no sign of pulling out of it.

  18. #18 rork
    June 29, 2011

    Maybe a bit loose and premature there about the Snake River dams. (Calling salmon a species set off alarms already, but I nitpick.) Just cause I can stock fish and get some to return doesn’t mean that the diversity represented by the original population is not gone (for a few thousands of years anyway). Counts of Sockeye at Lower Granite Dam from 1990-1999: 0, 8, 15, 12, 5, 3, 3, 11, 2, 14.
    I think the gene pool there took a hit, how about you?

    In the tributary ironically called the Salmon River the salmon are not even a crumb of the loaf that once was. I agree we must weigh such costs against the benefits of the dams. My valuation of those salmon populations is rather high though.

  19. #19 Ewan R
    June 29, 2011

    Please note that “social” shares the same root as “SOCIALISM”, which is a VERY BAD WORD.

    I’d be interested to see how a cooperative undertaking could not be social, if Kareiva were to classify conservation as a profoundly private, cooperative undertaking then that’d raise some red flags for sure – if he were suggesting conservation as being socialist one need only point out that “conservation” shares the same root as “CONSERVATIVE” which not only is a VERY BAD WORD ™ but also a disasterously harmful worldview (both in terms of the environment and human equality) – which would therefore suggest we should, if we want to save the environment, drop conservation and perhaps embrace libation instead, which would help or flagging vinyard based economy and be a lot easier (may or may not require fewer volvos, not sure on this)

  20. #20 GregH
    June 29, 2011

    “Kareiva sees conservation in this century as a profoundly social, cooperative undertaking that has to include everyone.”

    Please note that “social” shares the same root as “SOCIALISM”, which is a VERY BAD WORD. That says to me that he’s either lying, or doesn’t know what he’s talking about. (I think he’s lying for money.)

  21. #21 Jesse
    June 29, 2011

    I think there are several problems here that Brand addresses but they are a bit more complicated.

    First, it’s worth noting that Greenpeace, especially, tends to be very white, very middle-class. There really is a basic problem of connecting environmental issues to class issues that is only now being worked out. It should have been done 40 years ago.

    Second, the reason that a stereotypical environmentalist is stereotypical is because stereotypes are like stopped clocks — they are right, but only in certain ways. That doesn’t mean they have no basis whatever. The question is what that basis is.

    Either way, I have noticed that one problem with certain bits of the environmental movement — and unfortunately the ones that make good TV — are the ones that fall into stereotype. A big part of that is because there is sometimes a lot of unexamined privilege and a lack of appreciation for how human societies, technology and the environment interact for both good and ill. (For example, most vegetables we eat would never survive as wild plants. Even if we were all vegetarians tomorrow a good chunk of “industrial” agriculture would probably still be intact).

    Or to put it another way: it’s easy to talk about paying more for organic food when food is a smaller part of your budget and that organic food is picked by the brown-skinned guy you never notice.

    These aren’t easy problems with easy solutions. But the environmental movement has to do a better job of acknowledging them.

  22. #22 Pierce R. Butler
    June 29, 2011

    Such a shame to see a former leader in whole-systems thinking falling into stereotypes and co-optation.

    Skip a few Manhattan cocktail parties and go hiking across some “removed” Appalachian mountaintops, Mr. Brand!

  23. #23 Fred Magyar
    June 29, 2011

    @ Richard Pourau,

    I very much agree with your basic points. However the terms ‘Green’ and ‘Environmentalist’ have pretty much become meaningless nowadays. Very few of the people who claim to be either have a true understanding of our current reality! Except for a very few systems thinkers who actually might be able to wear the moniker of ‘Deep Ecologist’ with some honor…

    “New social networking tools can be in the thick of it. For instance, people could use their smartphones to photograph (and geotag, timestamp, and broadcast) the northernmost occurrence of bird species, and the aggregate data could be graphed in real time, showing the increasing effects of global warming on the natural world.”

    Surely your joking Ms.Ronald, May I suggest a few hours with Dr. Joseph Tainter. Here’s a preview:

    Joseph tainter; The Collapse of complex Civilisations

  24. #24 Richard Pourau
    June 29, 2011

    Yuck! Accusing the Green Movement of cheap and misleading rhetoric with cherry picked surveys implying that more and more people see environmentalists (no room for distinction between deep ecologists and more practical environmentalists in …this piece – they’re all much the same, aren’t they?) as ‘extremists’? “Green influence has been dwindling…” Really? That certainly hasn’t been the case here, or in many countries in which I’ve observed environmental concerns growing, rather than diminishing, a trend usually supported by impartial science I might add. With the recent U.S environmental track record, however, it’s not hard to believe that what Brand is saying holds true over there. The fact that the world is undoubtedly urbanizing is meant to imply what exactly? That those of us who are concerned with species extinction (other than our own, of course), or economic resource mismanagement which results in inequality (see, some of us misanthropic zealots do think of human welfare) and unsustainable consumption must be, for the most part, affluent anti-social school girl idealists? Pick a few instances where the facts are less than worst case and all of a sudden all the other well documented environmental disasters (not too extreme a word choice, I hope?) must be the sensationalised work of preachy pastoralists?
    Yes, let’s not demonise those poor misunderstood multi-national mining and resource conglomerates. At least not when it’s far more reassuring and gratifying to find another group we can hang the ‘extremist’ label upon. Hmmm, I wonder if I could make up a spiffy graph on my i-pad to illustrate just how rubbishy this article really is, after I’ve finished blowing up my daily quota of mining rigs and petrol tankers that is. I’ve been a little slack with my duties as an environmental extremist lately. I’d better be careful or I might get kicked out of the union.See more

  25. #25 Fred Magyar
    June 29, 2011

    Two questions I would like to see asked of every presidential candidate, Republican or Democrat:

    “Could you please state the second law of thermodynamics and explain how it impacts ecosystems and consequently the economy?”

    “Please briefly define what an exponential function is and tell us if you think that collectively, humans are any smarter than yeast”

    BTW, I have acquired a deep aversion to the terms ‘Green’ and Environmentalist. Even most photosynthetic organisms tend not to find ‘Green’ a very useful wavelength preferring to absorb more blues and reds…

  26. #26 Neil Craig
    June 29, 2011

    I think that is a pretty fair assessment. Despite being welcomed by juvenile “leftists” due to the failure of traditional socialism, “environmentalism” has always been a movement of the middle classes worried about the common people eating into their position. This was also the position of the original Luddites.

    The claim to be “environmetal” is clearly a false flag for Ludditers to use. What sort of true environmentalist would wish to indutrialise the landscape with 10s of thousnads of bird killing windmills. For the last 50 years, since Varson’s Silent Spring and the adoption of the nuclear LNT theory we have literally hundreds of world calamity stories, used to get power and government spending. Not one of them has ultimately proven true.

    I would like to thing that the catastrophic global warming scam is the last desperate throw of these ecofascists.

  27. #27 heteromeles
    June 29, 2011

    Speaking as an environmentalist, I’d say that we still have too many Volvo-environmentalists around, people who want their access to their favorite areas maintained, at whatever the cost. That is elitism, and it is a problem.

    While I get annoyed with my brothers and sister environmentalists for being narrow minded at times, they are, on the whole, far more broad-minded and generous than the anti-environmental zealots that I’ve run into recently. They just aren’t as perfect as I’d like.

    Not that I blame the zealots, either. Exactly. They’re being fed a line. Loggers back in the 90s were told that environmentalists were costing them jobs, even when their own bosses were selling them out and taking the companies elsewhere. The current anti-global warming hysteria is being spread for similar reasons. The people who founded the national parks ran into similar idiots. It’s not new.

    I advocate for native plants, which is definitely a minority issue. What do I tell anti-environmentalists, and people who just don’t care?

    I may tell them that people were living off native plants for the last 10,000 years, and keeping them around is purely sensible, considering how many problems we’re having with this little industrial agriculture experiment. They won’t support everyone, but they’ll support some people. They’re the life boats.

    Or I may explain how a proposed power plant appears to be a boondoggle, built to make the construction company wealthy, while neither the community it’s in nor the people who get its power will benefit. I’m constrained to pointing out how it’s harming the native plants, but my real concern is the community, plants and people. Everyone loses with that type of profiteering, and it’s all too common now.

    People are willing to listen, on those terms. And then they’re a little more interested in hearing about the other 90 percent of the world that they’re not paying attention to. The plants, that is.

  28. #28 Ed Darrell
    June 29, 2011

    My recollection, my memories, are of the deep, bitter fights over the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and especially the Endangered Species Act of 1973. I don’t recall any of them passing with a unanimous vote in either house. Got a reference for that?

  29. #29 Karl Haro von Mogel
    June 28, 2011

    This is a good review, and it reminds me of an experience. Back when I was at Davis, my now-wife Ariela and I took part in a few activities with The Environmental Science and Policy Club (ESP). We saw a fish hatchery on one day, which was neat (seen it back in Sonoma County), but I really liked a trip we took to the Consumnes River to plant oak acorns in a field to try to restore the oak forest. That was getting involved, and investing ourselves in restoration.

    But when the club met to discuss what to do next, they wanted to go on a hike. Hiking is great, I love to do it, but Ariela suggested that maybe we all get our hands dirty and go rooting through garbage to find things that can be reused, donated, salvaged, etc, like the R4 recycling group does. Diminutively referred to as her “Treasure Hunt” idea, the group largely derided the hands-on idea and went for nature appreciation.

    But the place they chose for the hike was a man-made paved trail with no vigorour incline and led nowhere, not even a body of water. She said it was the most boring thing she did with the club, and yet it was really exciting to the other members. Well, after that, they lost a member that was ostracized for wanting to get involved.

    And I’ve taken her to hike at some really great places – if you want to appreciate nature go to Lassen, Yosemite, the California Delta, Coast, Point Reyes, etc. Not a dry dusty hill! I am delighted to hear that the Nature Conservancy gets kids’ hands dirty, and that it might be having an effect.

  30. #30 Vince whirlwind
    June 28, 2011

    Yes, environmentalists have started to really piss me off – they want to lock people out of National Parks by blocking roads, forbidding cooking fires and other activities. They constantly interfere with kangaroo culling which is already a far more wasteful activity than it need be because nobody is game to stand up to the environmentalists and actually harvest the meat from slaughtered kangaroos, leaving it to rot instead.

    And the Greens movement in Australia was responsible for blocking the CO2 emissions trading scheme that our Labor government tried to introduce. This was a massive betrayal.
    They spend far more of their time on fringe issues unrelated to the environment such as homosexual marriage and encouraging illegal immigrants.

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