Is biodiversity conservation part of the environmental movement? To what extent is the protection of species like tigers an integral part of wider concerns about transition to more sustainable lives on earth? These questions came up at a recent meeting Conservation and Sustainability: Do We Practise What We Preach?, organised by the Cambridge Conservation Forum. The questions are simple enough. The answers turn out to be a bit more complicated.
Historically, it’s a no-brainer. The birth of the modern conservation movement in the late Nineteenth Century was strongly environmentalist, in that it was a broad-spectrum reaction to the depredations of capitalism and industrialism. In colonised territories like North America or Africa, the extinction of species (blaubok, quagga or passenger pigeon) and the settlement of frontiers drove a wave of sentiment for wilderness. Yet in countries like the UK, conservation had broader roots: the founders of organisations like the National Trust and the RSPB and the Open Spaces Society were people who opposed the impacts of industrial pollution, urban sprawl, hunting and collecting, even if they enjoyed certain of its fruits.