Biodiversity conservation needs to be a holistic effort.

Children fascinated with sea shells.
Education efforts must also get people to feel for nature.

Current efforts to promote conservation are heavily focused on research into the necessity and benefits of biodiversity (practical and cultural ecosystem services) and public education. Such efforts are generally successful in bringing people towards awareness of the importance of biodiversity conservation. However this awareness does not necessarily translate into concern or action1⁠. Conservation research also informs policy decisions in conservation priorities, however there is a growing controversy regarding the practical applications of many ecological studies to conservation efforts2⁠. We can also have the most informed conservation decisions and plans, but if people have no desire to act on them, no action will be taken. Furthermore, even when people are aware and concerned about biodiversity conservation, they may not take action (value-action gap)1⁠. It becomes apparent that the approach of addressing the information deficit regarding conservation issues is, alone, very likely insufficient in addressing the pressing need for conservation action. It is likely that in order to make conservation both appealing and actionable, additional approaches need to be used to supplement biodiversity research and education efforts.

The emotional aspect of conservation and our inherent connection with nature.

Some people may not be familiar with climate change or ecosystem services, but they love the natural world and feel a sense of wrongness, pity and loss when it is destroyed. This connectedness to nature can be categorised as valuing nature for what it is (intrinsic value), and it is felt, not reasoned. Similarly, even without a strong scientific background, people can still have a very intuitive view for preserving ecological balance and the need for conservation3⁠.

How people form mental constructs of nature and subsequent attitudes toward it come from both their direct (non-representational) and indirect (representational) experiences with nature. Such experiences do not necessarily have to be from an educational perspective.

Niagara Falls.

The majesty of the Niagara Falls can only truly be felt through first-hand experience.

It is one thing to admire the works of Ansel Adams, but quite another to personally hike up a mountain for the view. This is somewhat analogous to the “Overview Effect” felt by astronauts viewing the Earth from space for the first time. Harnessing the effect of direct experience with nature may be a powerful way of getting people to connect with nature. However, this does not exclude the usefulness of representation; nature books, films and photography may also have significant effects in getting people to feel for nature and are viable alternatives given time and resource constraints.

13165525763_e3f6cabd6a_oThe benefits of childhood nature experience to cognitive and social development4⁠ suggest that people have an innate link with nature. E. O. Wilson, in his book Biophilia, goes further in proposing that humans are innately drawn to other living things and it is this bond that forms the essence of humanity. Perhaps it is our inherent connection with nature, and our direct and indirect experiences with nature that drive our desire to conserve it4⁠.

However, urbanisation reduces opportunities for direct contact with nature and busy lifestyles reduce opportunities for both direct and indirect exposure to nature. These factors may have detrimentally reduced people’s connectedness to nature.

(Re)connecting with nature and addressing the Value-Action Gap.

Priorities of individuals play a decisive role in their attitudes and behaviours. It must be recognised that until the effects of biodiversity loss is directly felt, conservation will likely never take priority over bread-and-butter issues5⁠. Everyday stresses of holding on to a job, feeding a family and paying the bills often compel people to put aside their desire to connect with and preserve nature, and focus instead on more immediate concerns. Similarly for decision-makers, issues such as inflation, war, poverty and health-care present themselves as more immediate concerns than biodiversity loss.

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Initiatives that promote healthy work-life balance, provide for all human basic needs adequately, and increased exposure to nature are therefore likely imperative in order to promote conservation behaviour. Bread-and-butter priorities must be satisfied first in order to allow more time for a healthy exposure to nature and to prioritise sustainable living and biodiversity conservation. The pursuit of sustainable living, of which biodiversity conservation forms a major component, is therefore likely to be a holistic effort. We ultimately need to work towards a world that provides adequately for all its living inhabitants in order to incorporate sustainable living into lifestyles preferred by people. This would make biodiversity conservation more desirable, as well as to allow people to act on it.

References:

1. Blake, J. Overcoming the “value‐action gap” in environmental policy: Tensions between national policy and local experience. Local Environ. 4, 257–278 (1999).

2. Meijaard, E. & Sheil, D. Is wildlife research useful for wildlife conservation in the tropics? A review for Borneo with global implications. Biodivers. Conserv. 16, 3053–3065 (2007).

3. Fischer, A. & Young, J. C. Understanding mental constructs of biodiversity: Implications for biodiversity management and conservation. Biol. Conserv. 136, 271–282 (2007).

4. Charles, C. & Wheeler, K. Children & Nature Worldwide : An Exploration of Children’s Experiences of the Outdoors and Nature with Associated Risks and Benefits. 1–68 (2012).

5. Lorenzoni, I., Nicholson-Cole, S. & Whitmarsh, L. Barriers perceived to engaging with climate change among the UK public and their policy implications. Glob. Environ. Chang. 17, 445–459 (2007).

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