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Ignoring Nature No MoreThe Case for Compassionate Conservation$

Marc Bekoff

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780226925332

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.001.0001

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(p.167) Part Three Conservation Economics and Politics

(p.167) Part Three Conservation Economics and Politics

It All Comes Down to Money (p.168)

Ignoring Nature No More
University of Chicago Press

(p.169) LIKE MANY OTHER aspects of life, much of what we are able to do comes down to money, an extremely limited resource that severely restricts our efforts to make things better. Brian Czech points out, as have others, that the animal welfare movement tends to ignore wild animals, including the environment that maximizes wild animal welfare. He stresses that steady state economics is essential for wild animal welfare and that people who think about macroeconomics tend to ignore the environment and animal welfare. His basic arguments center on this presumption: “The process of economic growth simply entails more economic activity and, therefore, more habitat destruction and more inhumane treatment of wild animals. Economic growth is not intended to kill, torture, or harass animals, and in that respect is not as detestable as various other forms of inhumanity. Yet economic growth is surely the greatest of all forms of inhumanity in terms of the gross amount of wild animal suffering that results” (my emphasis). Furthermore, when considering endangered species, Czech writes, “These economic activities imperil species because they remove or degrade the food, water, cover, and space required to sustain wild animals. To put the scale of the problem into perspective, consider how many individual animals suffer when these economic activities imperil an entire species. Yet this is precisely what has occurred when a species is listed as threatened or endangered.” The sequence of logic pertaining to the humane treatment of wild animals is: “(l) Wild animal welfare requires wildlife habitats. (2) Economic growth occurs at the expense of wildlife habitats. (3) Stabilization of wildlife habitats, and, therefore, the humane treatment of wild animals, requires the establishment of a steady state economy.”

Eric Shelton's essay focuses on conservation, biodiversity, tourism, and the conservation economy in New Zealand and how different conceptions of nature add complexity to the notion of “ignoring nature.” For example, the United States' idea of wilderness as standing in for nature is not replicated in New Zealand, where the current neoliberal move to a conservation economy emphasizes the role of the natural environment as being a provider of ecosystem services and as a resource for tourism. Shelton discusses the interplay among politics, economics, and activism. He argues that Kate Soper's (1995) philosophical framework provides a basis for clarifying ideas on the status and role of nature, as they are espoused, and may lead to better-informed community and professional involvement in the production of habitat and in species reintroduction. Soper's framework facilitates informed (p.170) discussion about which concepts of nature inform which management preferences and decisions. Shelton discusses conservation, biodiversity, and tourism in New Zealand and highlights a project at Long Point intended to recreate and restore sea birds' colonies. The Long Point Project illustrates a social movement from environmental quietism to urgent ecosystem activism, a development that reflects an increased sense of individual agency, a key component of the neoliberal agenda.

An important question that's not considered in any detail in this book is, “How can money be raised?” It's been very difficult for animal protection and conservation organizations to raise the money needed to have widespread benefits. While tourism can raise some funds, Marco Festa-Bianchet (part 2, chapter 9) offers that trophy hunting “is the only form of economic activity that can protect some habitats and ecosystems as an alternative to more destructive human uses” because, unlike ecotourists who go to safe places where they are sure to see animals, trophy and sport hunters will travel to remote areas and are willing to spend large sums for the opportunity to kill a prize animal. Surely, this will not sit well with those interested in animal protection, but others have also made the same argument (e.g., Whitman et al. 2004). Once again, we're faced with difficult choices about who lives and who dies.


Soper, Kate. 1995. What Is Nature? Oxford: Blackwell.

Whitman, K., A. M. Starfield, H. S. Quadling, and C. Packer. 2004. “Sustainable Trophy Hunting of African Lions.” Nature 428: 175–78.