Culturing Science – biology as relevant to us earthly beings

Why conservation? (on Southern Fried Science)

As long as we’re considering human nature in terms of how we treat one another this new year, we may as well consider how we treat other species.  That is, conservation.

Once you start thinking about Homo sapiens as just another organism competing for resources, traditional views about conservation start to crumble.  We’re raised, once again in anthropocentrism, believing that it is our job to take care of the planet.  But if we’re competing, who really cares what we destroy along the way?  Is it not just part of evolution, of natural selection and survival of the fittest?

I have a lot of thoughts on this matter, but I’d like to point you all to a post by Andrew Thaler of Southern Fried Science.  As a biologist studying hydrothermal vents, he often wrestles with the question of, “who cares? Why should we save hydrothermal vents?”  In his post, he really gets down to the thick of it, the point that gets to me every time: we evolved behavior to care about the environment.

What makes us truly unique is not our ability to destroy, but our ability to conserve. No other species in the history of the planet has recognized the inherent value in another species, not as a resource, food source, or substrate, but simply as another living organism. No other species has expended its own resources, its own precious energy, to protect another, simply for the sake of the other species existence. No other species has ever planned and implemented an initiative to bring a species back from the brink of extinction. As certain as humanity’s ability to destroy has driven countless species to extinction, it is our unique and, frankly, unnatural desire to preserve and protect species and ecosystems for purely altruistic reasons that defines us.

Read the full post here.

Written by Hanner

January 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Thanks for the post Hannah … scattered thoughts: Human Behavioral Ecology gives great insight into the adaptive design of our behaviors … It seems marine reserves are finally catching on as an idea and more and more are being established … “A very Faustian choice is upon us: whether to accept our corrosive and risky behavior as the unavoidable price of population and economic growth, or to take stock of ourselves and search for a new environmental ethic.” — E. O. Wilson

    Rob Mutch

    January 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    • Hey Rob – Thanks for the quote! Are you saying that the things written about here are part of a field that has a name? If this is true, I can’t thank you enough. Any book recommendations?

      Hannah Waters

      January 3, 2011 at 4:24 pm

  2. Yes! Human Behavioral Ecologists (HBE) and Evolutionary Psychologists (see Wikipedia) study human behavior just as other scientists would study the evolutionary/adaptational value of a bird’s beak or bipedalism, etc. HBE did for Anthropology what MacArthur and Wilson did for Ecology with Evolutionary Ecology. So, a lot of HBE comes out of Behavioral Ecology/Sociobiology (E. O. Wilson) and deals with Optimization – altruism being a huge area of study. All of these fields coming out of the New Synthesis….phew! An imp’t book is, “Evolutionary Ecol. and Human Behaviour” (Eric Alden Smith and Bruce Winterhalder). See Sarah Hrdy’s, “Mother Nature” and Nigel Barber, “Kindness in a Cruel World: The Evolution of Altruism”. This may or may not be relevant to your post, “Why conservation” and human altruism, but, it may be worth exploring a bit. Hope this helps. Rob :o)

    Rob Mutch

    January 3, 2011 at 5:22 pm


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