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Beyond the Square Wheel: Toward a More Comprehensive Understanding of Biodiversity Conservation as Social and Political Process (Draft)

by on September 18, 2011

In the article Beyond the Square Wheel: Toward a More Comprehensive Understanding of Biodiversity Conservation as Social and Political Process written by Brechin, Wilshusen, Fortwangler, and West, the authors dive into the debate of successful biodiversity conservation strategies. The primary focus of the article is to start the dialogue process, which centers around six ideals that they argue to be most beneficial when finding a jumping off point of biological conservation. The main argument is between successful strategies in theory and successful strategies in reality, in other words, the issue of the “protection paradigm”(42). There is a universal understanding that the biodiversity of the planet is in need of protection; however, the plans to establish this protection tend to fall short. Why is this? Because typically there are very idealistic solutions to the various problems that don’t take into account differing locations, cultures, scales, or the long-term impacts of the proposed ideas and whom the ideas could affect. What the authors of this article want to emphasize is that even though there is an unbelievable amount of disconnect between society and political actions regarding biological conservation, it does not mean that it cannot be learned from. Six “elements of social and political process” are put forth as a guideline and have the potential to work in a variety of areas with different social and political backgrounds as well as different biodiversity conservation needs. These six elements include: human dignity (who are the people who benefit from conservation acts?); legitimacy (is the conservation process right for the situation and can the laws can be upheld?); governance (who are the people deciding and how are they chosen?); accountability (out of the people involved with the decisions, is every one doing their part equally? And are goals being met?); adaptation (how can a society continue to improve its goals through experience?); and lastly, nonlocal forces (what are the lasting effects of commercial enterprises on an area and its economy?).  The underlying idea of this article is to emphasize the fact that there cannot be one set of rules for every different biodiversity conservational act around the globe, the importance of scale, society, location, and politics have to be taken into account on a localized scale. Also, that protection and conservation are “products of social action” (45) and that there exists “a false dichotomy” of “pro-nature versus pro-people” (51). There cannot be this separation because “conservation is a human organizational process…the goal of biodiversity protection (pro-nature) depends on the strength and commitment of social actors (pro-people)” (51). I cannot agree more with this quote. There should not be this division between pro-people and pro-nature because we are one in the same. There was a discussion we had in class about the separation of humans and nature in response to the Mann and Padoch readings, and I feel that the same can be applied here. The end of the Brechin reading offers another six ideas that the authors think could provide a working guideline to start discussions and begin the process of solving biodiversity conservation problems within an entire society. They push the fact that all of the society needs to be involved in the process, which means better decision power distribution, education of the problem, recognizing the uniqueness of the area, and the importance of learning from experience.

The authors are not coming up with ideas that are necessarily “new”, but they are breaking the conservation process down into manageable pieces and emphasizing the importance of a better dialogue. After reading this article, I can’t help but ask the question of whether or not these guidelines are being used in the real world, or only in theory? Are there good examples of these ideas having been put into action since this article has been written in 2002? Or in current “emergency situations”(58)? I feel that this article drives home the importance of an entire society being involved with the protection of biodiversity through cooperation, dialogue, and willingness to change.

  1. 242colleencarey permalink

    I agree with the authors of this article in regard to the fact that “that even though there is an unbelievable amount of disconnect between society and political actions regarding biological conservation, it does not mean that it cannot be learned from.” I believe that the six “elements of social and political process” are efficient ways to get this problem of disconnection fixed. What I wonder is why aren’t these elements being used. Are they? This is the first article I’ve read about them and to my knowledge, when looking at conservation efforts, I haven’t recognized any of these elements being applied. This article stresses the need to aid in conservation and I couldn’t agree more.

  2. I really appreciate your question on whether the author is actually utilizing these six steps or if they are merely theory, mostly because, yes, the author does come up with many great plans for utilizing the “how” rather than the “what” within biodiversity conservation, but then, does he truly show how it’s being acted out? I agree with colleen that these elements do seem like efficient ways in which to gain focus on what’s going on and to truly help these large scale conservation techniques to be put to use, but I, too, am unsure as to whether they are being used or not. I think that, seeing as we are all finding that the ideas are there, but the action is lacking, that maybe the problem that Brechin found with international biodiversity conservation is still the same, and it makes me wonder: are we still in the same position that we were before, that is, focusing on the idea of conservation rather than truly living it out? Has any work towards conservation actually happened? In all honesty, I still wonder if what Brechin was talking about in regards to the focus on authoritarian protection practices aren’t still in practice, that is, they are still overlooking social and political processes that could aid conservaton (42). Perhaps the political and social processes are involved, but maybe they are still only as involved as we allow them, and that the ideas are still driving forward and the action is lacking.

  3. I appreciate your question concerning the nature of these six guidelines, as I also questioned if it is even possible to appropriately apply the six key elements in the real world. In the beginning of the article, S. R. Brechin et al. mentions the importance to recognize the complexity of the conservation of nature. The example provided illustrates rural areas of, “high priority biodiversity ‘hot spots’ that are also political ‘hotbeds’”(Brechin, 42). A good example of this is the Amazon region in Ecuador. This Amazonas ecosystem is extremely rich in biodiversity, a bio-diverse “hot spot,” as well as recently becoming a political “hotbed.” Huge sectors of this land hold prosperous, untapped oil reserves in which could directly fuel the nations economic well-being, while adversely destroying not only the land, but the surrounding communities. This is when the six key elements would play a role in the transnational decision making of both Ecuador and the various nations demanding these reserves. In my opinion, due to economic incentives and particularly the difficulty to uphold the following three of the six key elements- governance, legitimacy and human dignity- this process would be extremely difficult to sustain, and will remain only in theory.

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