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Requiem for Nature

by on September 17, 2011
  1. Terborgh’s book aptly titled Requiem for Nature, is a testament for change of nature conservation policy. The main problems that cause severe inefficacy in most, if not all, conservation organizations are addressed, then he proposes possible routes of improvement for such nature preservation on the whole throughout the rest of his book.
  2. In the first chapter, Terborgh explains why conservation organizations are not currently doing the job they set out to do. He says, “Faced with constantly shifting fads in conservation policy, a desire to impress directors with short-term results, an unending need to respond to crises, and an almost obsessive preoccupation with the demands of fund-raising, officers of conservation organizations are distracted from thinking deeply about ways in which conservation can be achieved over the long term. Yet no other institutions capable of crafting a global conservation strategy exist.” (9) Then, Terborgh very clearly states that the main question he will attempt to answer in his book addresses what can realistically be done to preserve nature in the long term. There is certainly not an easy question to answer, but Terborgh says that with his particular insight he can only, “…offer some suggestions and hope that conservation organizations and governments will respond by designing programs robust enough to endure a century of unprecedented social and technological change.” (9)
  3. One particularly interesting idea that Terborgh describes as he maps out the conservation issue is that the idea of nature in the Western world is fundamentally different from those in developing countries. In these third-world nations, nature is seen only to have “utilitarian” value — nature’s importance lies in it’s enabling the people who use it to survive. On the other hand, in the comfortable living of the Western world, there is the view of nature as something beautiful and precious and not just something that provides us with the means to survive. Terborgh further complicates the idea by pointing out that, ultimately, because of our developments in technology and medicine, humans don’t actually need these wild nature habitats to survive. We need land, but we don’t need wild nature. So, ultimately, he says, the primary reasons to save nature will have to be “aesthetic and spiritual.” Terborgh eloquently states, “What is absolute, enduring, and irreplaceable is the primordial nourishment of our psyches afforded by a quiet walk in an ancient forest or the spectacle of a thousand snow geese against a blue sky on a crisp winter day. There are no substitutes for these things, and if they cease to exist, all the money in the world will not bring them back.” (19) In plain terms, we need to save nature for nature’s sake, but the problem is that places with the greatest biodiversity and are therefore the most paramount to save, are in those developing countries who have yet to see nature’s intrinsic value.
  4. In the last chapter of his book, Terborgh lists a few of his suggestions to improve the state of conservation efforts globally. In the beginning of the chapter, he seems to think that a factor at the root of the conservation problem is human overpopulation and the expectation that it will continue to get much worse. He believes that the world would be far better off if the human population were balanced with the population of all other living species, not wildly overriding them. In short, if humans were much, much fewer, the world would be far better off. But as this can be only one focus of a larger solution, he lists a few other ideas for improvement on the issue including the fact that the ultimate goal should be to “uncouple” nature conservation with national politics and to develop an internationalized effort of preservation . This is based on the convincing idea the biodiversity transcend national borders – that we are all part of the globe and that we all have a responsibility to protect it. Other specific solutions he mentions are an internationally paid elite guard for national parks, the purchasing of land to protect it – bought by foreigners but held in title by local conservation organizations, and, fully internationalized “nature keeping” similar to keeping the peace done by organizations like the U.N. which would have the power to intervene on the behalf of nature for countries who could not do the job themselves so to speak. But, ultimately, Terborgh says that the root of solving the problem lies in large-scale change of government policies.
  5. Overall I found that Terborgh makes a convincing argument for the dire need to save nature, and the main problems preventing a simple solution. One thing I think needs to be addressed is what can be done about the disparity in ideologies regarding nature between the Western world and developing countries, which seems to be a big part of the problem. I also wonder how realistic the implementing of his solutions really are in today’s global society. One hopeful idea he brought up is the growing concern for the preservation of nature in today’s youth. On that note, I think education, especially within developing countries is of paramount importance.
  6. Questions I have regarding his ideas are, is it really true that we should only save nature for nature’s sake? Is there something that wild nature provides us that is more than just “aesthetic and spiritual?” And, are international efforts of preservation the solution, or should they be complimented with further local efforts? Also, is politicizing the issue on a global level the right way to approach the problem as further involving political arenas will surely prolong the eventual resolution. On the other hand, is there any other way? Finally, if we are to internationalize the conservation effort through the U.N., would there be greater global ramifications against local, national interests?
  1. I had some qualms with Terborg’s definition of nature and nature conservation. He sees nature as an unchanging thing, that has balanced until humans entered the picture. In my eyes, nature is not and has never been a constant. It is constantly changing, that is the very nature of nature. Also, he believes that conserving nature means not letting anything become extinct. It is obvious in many cases that mans footprint is the cause of animal population decrease, but extinction has always been a process of nature. More things have become extinct than have survived in the course of mother earths life. It’s part of evolution.

  2. janellekramer permalink

    I agree that the idea of conservation in third world countries is different than conservation in developed countries. By the same token, I thought it was really interesting how Terborg said that the “forest was unclaimed wilderness because it had not been cleared” (4). On one hand, I thought it was a really interesting take on how to mark who owns the land. On the other hand, I was not happy with this view because just because people haven’t cleared the land doesn’t mean they don’t live there. Maybe that’s the point, they have inhabited that land so they could live in said land, not a cleared version of the land!

  3. Frederick Reisen permalink

    Although I think Terborgh brought many of the issues surrounding efficient conservation to light I believe the most important and relevant statement is about human overpopulation. From what I can tell this is by an large the biggest issue facing both the survival of the human race and the idea of nature we wish to save. However, I believe trying to tell people not to have kids is such a taboo in human culture that the point on overpopulation and the necessity to slow our growth is often glossed over. To answer Megan’s question I think that the idea of saving our nature is intrinsically tied to saving humans. If nature is to be though of as the natural sate of Earth than nature has had many faces over the history of the earth. The nature we wish to save is our nature, it is the human nature, and in the end our efforts will also help to preserve our existence. The policies and enforcement should follow international guidelines tailored to more local situations and whenever possible be as transparent to the public as possible.

  4. Benjamin N. permalink

    Regarding the question you posed about international and local efforts – In order for conservation to work, I believe that it needs to happen on both levels, as well as everywhere in between, because as the article states, conservation efforts are going to need to look different for different types of communities. We need to have flexible options in order to optimize efforts and results in each area. Conservation needs to be a task that we all take up. That being said, I think we first need to establish how to go about it. I believe that Brechin’s plan is a good one, because it’s about establishing parameters, education, and ways to work together in order to preserve biodiversity. It may not be perfect, but it’s certainly a good start.

  5. first off, in regards to you question regarding whether or not “wild nature provides more than just a spiritual and aesthetic,” i would have to say of course yes! nature is providing us with a whole ecosystem, contributing to quality of air, providing wood to make paper/houses, and provides various contributions to the medical world. these are just a few example i could think of off hand, but the point i’m trying to convey is that nature provides a wide range of necessities that may be overlooked by humans. speaking of humans, i find it quite pathetic that the involvement and push for conservation is based on impressing the directors and also primarily based on whether it is trendy and popular within society at the moment. i found this quite saddening actually, and made the assumption that their was a lot more support, action, and passion when it came to organized conservation.

  6. I agree that global efforts for changing and conserving nature will make a bigger impact for the long term. When this question was brought up in the post, it reminded me of another article we read for class on indigenous people in the Amazon. When we discussed this article in class, there was a debate on whether or not the Amazon rain forest belongs to the people who live there or if it belongs to everyone. I think that in some way, we are all a part of nature, no matter where we live or how much we rely on certain resources from a certain landscape. If we are to really make a change with the conservation of nature, internationally lead programs must be implemented.

    • Kelcy,
      I totally agree with you, we are all living on this earth together, thus making the conservation of the environment somewhat of a globalized issue. An interesting question here remains. All developed countries did and will continue to exploit domestic and international natural resources for economic gain. That is why these nations are now able to sit comfortably, enjoying the aesthetic value of nature. The question is then, who is given the right to tell developing countries that they are unable to do the very same thing? These regions may be the only environments rich in biodiversity left on this planet, shouldn’t mean that those individuals are denied the opportunity for economic prosperity. Also, when looking at the Amazon, for example, who is extracting the oil? Foreign countries like Japan and the US! All of these developed countries are dangerously dependent on oil. It seems a little hypocritical to say, you know you guys have to preserve the biodiversity of the Amazon, but the second times get hard turn around and start drilling. It does seem like a global issue where all parties involved are just as guilty.

  7. 242colleencarey permalink

    I like to main question he attempts to answer in his book in “what can realistically be done to preserve nature in the long term.” I think that this is such a complicated question because of the different views that conservationists and others working with nature conservation have. He says that he can only, “…offer some suggestions and hope that conservation organizations and governments will respond by designing programs robust enough to endure a century of unprecedented social and technological change.” I think that more people should be offering suggestions and being adamant about them.

  8. This book was really interesting in the fact that it dynamically constructed a new dynamic relationship within the nature-culture paradigm. Terborgh states that, “nature and biodiversity must be conserved for their own sakes, not because they have present utilitarian value”(19). Conserving these areas in developing countries, as you pointed out, is difficult when, “economic forces, driven by population growth and the fervent desire of people everywhere to advance their material well-being”(19). I don’t agree with Terborgh’s assessment of stating that developing countries only place the value of nature in relation to means for survival. In Latin American countries such as Ecuador and Peru, individuals consider nature to be somewhat of a sacred being, referring to it as the Pacha Mama; Ecuador has even given special rights to nature under the constitution. Terborgh recognizes that fundamentally, “conserving nature must be spiritual…”(19). Through his broad generalization of developing countries, he fails to understand these countries on a societal level rather than on a state level. In Ecuador for example, although the state’s policy right now toward conservation of the Amazon may be less than satisfactory, there are many social groups working to maintain these areas and thus far have been somewhat successful. This illustrates the peoples desire to conserve these area more than exploit them for material gains.

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