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Environmental Values in Conservation: Ethics, Economics and Pragmatism

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  • Clive L. Spash

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Abstract

Conservation today is facing the challenges of neoliberal world political forces dominated by bankers, financiers and multinational corporations who care little for protecting anything that does not pay them a personal reward. The standard counter to such a utilitarian economic philosophy is to point out alternative ethical approaches, which have for sometime been central to conservation arguments. However, in recent times, environmental non-governmental organisations, including conservation biologists, have increasingly pushed a narrow economic rhetoric, and converted themselves into allies of the ‘economic growth at any cost’ school of thought, in an attempt to win the favour of corporations under a new environmental pragmatism and New Conservation. This discussion paper critically analyses these topics as given in a lecture to the international conservation community. Presented here is the full transcript of the plenary presentation given to 2000 conservation biologist at their international meeting in Montpellier in 2015. The talk received an unprecedented standing ovation from the audience. It was given as a counter position to that of Peter Kareiva who presented immediately preceding this lecture, and was followed by a debate between Kareiva and Spash. The central topic was the New Conservation being championed by Kareiva and his boss, Mark Tercek, at The Nature Conservancy. As this lecture notes, this is part of a broader ideological move towards neoliberalism in conservation biology, and more generally the environmental movement, in the guise of a pragmatic use of economics. The arguments presented here are more fully understood when accompanied by the original presentation overheads (available online from http://www.clivespash.org/lectures-and-presentations/conference-papers/). However, the transcript on its own makes clear the bias, flaws and contradictions in the logic being presented as New Conservation. The structure of argument covers: the motivations behind the increasing use of economic valuation and policy instruments, the economics of optimal extinction that lies behind this, the implications that appealing to individual preferences for creating money numbers, why this does not provide protection or lead to conservation, how corporations are using the environmental movement for their own ends, and the implicit ideology of the New Conservation as a conservative technocracy. Some references have been added to the transcribed talk. Keywords: Conservation biology, economic valuation, environmental values, ethics, corporate power, biodiversity offsetting, species preservation, public preferences, environmentalism of the poor, technocracy, neoliberalism, new environmental pragmatism, Tony Juniper, New Conservation, Peter Kareiva, Mark Tercek, The Nature Conservancy.

Suggested Citation

  • Clive L. Spash, 2017. "Environmental Values in Conservation: Ethics, Economics and Pragmatism," SRE-Disc sre-disc-2017_01, Institute for Multilevel Governance and Development, Department of Socioeconomics, Vienna University of Economics and Business.
  • Handle: RePEc:wiw:wiwsre:sre-disc-2017_01
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    1. Spash, Clive L. & Vatn, Arild, 2006. "Transferring environmental value estimates: Issues and alternatives," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(2), pages 379-388, December.
    2. Clive L. Spash, 2009. "The New Environmental Pragmatists, Pluralism and Sustainability," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 18(3), pages 253-256, August.
    3. Clive L. Spash, 2008. "How Much is that Ecosystem in the Window? The One with the Bio-diverse Trail," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 17(2), pages 259-284, May.
    4. Spash, Clive L., 2002. "Informing and forming preferences in environmental valuation: Coral reef biodiversity," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 23(5), pages 665-687, October.
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