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The Conservation Couplets: A Manifesto for Moving Forward from Earth Day into a More Just, Regenerative and Restorative Society

We once feared that “The world is doomed and the selfish actions of the earth’s many people are what is dooming it.”

We can see now that “If humans have the capacity to wound the earth, we also have the capacity to heal it. We have the humility to recognize, utilize, and to celebrate our collective healing capacity, and to somehow be healed ourselves by participating in that restoration process.”

We once self-righteously felt “We have to demonstrate the drive to fix environmental problems for others who cannot immediately see the necessity of doing so.”

We now understand that “We need to make change happen by working with others and changing ourselves. We need to include others in envisioning and implementing shifts toward a more inclusive set of players.”

We once passed judgement that “Destructive human behaviors need to be constrained so urgently that top-down regulation must become the most expedient and dominant means of protecting the environment and saving species.”

We now concede that “Our tool kit of conservation and restoration strategies will need to offer far more options than regulation, restriction, and punitive actions. Instead, we will need to unleash our personal and collective capacities to foster fresh innovation at the same time we maintain cultural traditions and voluntarily practice self-restraint.”

We once assumed that “Placing more wildlands and waters under the management authority of government agencies will allow us to avoid the tragedy of the commons.”

We must now admit that “Co-management with local communities can level the playing field. Why? Top-down command-and-control management of resources and landscapes by bureaucracies can often disenfranchise or bankrupt local communities’ capacities as long-term stakeholders. Tragically, it has resulted in pushback from local communities, and even armed conflict or clandestine destruction of resources conservationists had hoped to protect.”

We once presumed that “Hunting and fishing by the poor and hungry are killing off the earth’s fish and wildlife, so we have to been forced to protect nature from people in order to prevent the overharvesting that will extirpate species if left unchecked.”

Today, we are delighted by the successes that are achieved when “We positively reengage people in supporting the processes of nature, rather than isolating them from other species and nature’s own regenerative processes. At the same time, we must acknowledge that the loss of plants and microbes due to chemical and physical fragmentation of habitats and landscapes is now imperiling more biodiversity than is hunting and fishing of vertebrate animals.

We once felt inclined to “Write off the conservation value of disturbed, anthropogenic, and cultural managed habitats as well as the value of domesticated species. We opted for investing only in the protection of wilderness and the remaining diversity of wild, untrammeled species.”

We now feel emboldened to “Engage people of all ages, races and classes in the restoration of diversity in culturally-managed landscapes. That includes embracing the recovery of diversity in the cultivated crops, managed livestock, and fermentation microbes that are essential to regenerative agriculture and healthy diets. Some community-based initiatives begun in degraded habitats may now allow us to test restoration methods which we may someday use in more pristine habitats.”

We once fatalistically asserted that “Poor minorities in urban areas and indigenous communities in the hinterlands often become the victims of hazardous wastes and other contamination. That is because they have yet to develop the economic power, political standing, or environmental leadership capacity that will keep bad things from happening in their midsts.”

We now relish that fact that “People of color are not inevitably victims; they are valued leaders in and essential to our broader society’s efforts to care for creation. That may be because they so deeply express their sacred duty to integrate social justice and environmental quality issues to ensure the well-being of their families and communities for the next seven generations, and for all of humankind.”

We once believed that “Science alone should be enough to ensure the rational management and wise use of natural resources for the public good.”

We now humbly recognize that “Scientists, policy makers and on-ground resource managers need to be in constant dialogue with ethicists, faith-based communities, and culture bearers. If we ignore the need for dialogue between science and the spirit, we will not be able to achieve just, equitable, and morally-appropriate means to care for creation and the poor still living in our midst.”

We once held that “Biological conservation is about the rescue and relegation of imperiled species to protected in fortress-like parks, zoos, botanical gardens, and seed banks.”

We now sense that “Lasting biological conservation comes from restoring relationships among plants, animals, and microbial populations in a gradient of habitats that all include both natural and cultural elements.”

Economists once warned us that “Conservation will cost so much money and jobs that the growth of local and regional economies will inevitably be slowed, disrupted or diminished.”

It has become evident that “Cooperative restoration strategies generate more livelihoods with livable wages, valuable ecosystem services, and local multiplier effects. These can be done in a manner that sustains local assets and enhances regional economies so that they become less vulnerable to external threats and more resilient in the face of uncertainty.”

Live with the uncertainties, but move with compassion and love toward greater unity-in-diversity. We are all we’ve got!


Gary Paul Nabhan aka Brother Coyote is a professed member of the Ecumenical Order of Franciscans, a graduate of the Living School, a conservation biologist, orchard-keeper and story-teller.


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