Its failure began when it left humans out of the equation, and that failure is slowly resonating, as reported by PERC.
“This fall, PERC convened a Lone Mountain Forum on “Reconciling Economics and Ecology: The Foundation of Environmental Optimism” in which this writer was privileged to participate. While economics is a common topic at PERC gatherings, this forum featured a dazzling array of disciplines represented by the likes of Matt Ridley, the “Rational Optimist,” Charles Mann, author of 1491 and 1493, Daniel Botkin, the distinguished ecologist, as well as practitioners of anthropology, history, journalism, and law.
“Facilitated by Terry Anderson, PERC’s president, the forum participants were encouraged to engage one another on an issue fundamental to the integration of economics and ecology, a question which must be faced with great realism if, ultimately, we want to succeed at environmental restoration. Specifically, what is the nature of nature?
“Humans Versus Nature
“The debate over the relationship between human beings and nature is as old as history itself. Should public lands be preserved untouched or made available for “wise and multiple use?” Is nature better left alone to achieve some perceived state of balance? Or is the very idea of balance, stasis, or equilibrium a misperception of a world, which, in fact, is characterized by flux, upheaval, dynamism, and change? Moreover, are humans a “natural” part of the ecosystem or an alien invader, a destroyer of worlds, to be segregated from true nature? And which version of nature, or what kind of natural baseline, do we use in time and space to assess human actions that exploit, protect, or restore environmental amenities according to diverse human needs, wants, and expectations?
“The Lone Mountain Forum was preceded by a controversy early this year in the Breakthrough Journal. Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier, and Robert Lalasz, top scientists from the Nature Conservancy, criticized other mainstream conservationists for failing to take account of the role of humans in ecosystems (“Conservation in the Anthropocene: Beyond Solitude and Fragility,” Winter 2012). This was met with strong rebuttals from other quarters, specifically the head of the Center for Biological Diversity.
“By its own measures, conservation is failing,” opined the scientists. Indeed, “Conservation binaries— growth or nature, prosperity or biodiversity—have marginalized it in a world that will soon add at least two billion people.” The Lone Mountain Forum was a timely contribution to this debate.”