This essay is the sixth and final post in a series of blog posts on the subject of connections in Nature and how these connections relate to mankind’s existence on this planet. The material in this series is presented as follows:
- Nature’s Broken Links – Man’s Massive Impact On This Planet
- Resilience and Restoration – Restoring Nature’s Ecosystems
- Edges – Connections Between Ecosystems
- Ecological Corridors – Restoring Nature’s Wildlife Corridors
- Biosphere Reserves – Reconnecting Nature And People
- Summary. – The Disease of Political Will
I am hoping that the material in this series will be helpful to environmental educators as they plan lesson sets. Soon, I will be reorganizing this material into lesson plans. I also hope that students will use the information to develop their own presentations and projects. And, of course, I hope the material will be useful to all of you who are stewards of Nature who are looking for ways to conserve Her.
The material in this series reflects the credo for this blog site which contains three premises that are critically important if we are to preserve the environment in which we humans must live and survive:
- Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. Everything, including ourselves, is connected to everything else.
- Conservation is the act of identifying and preserving Nature’s interconnections.
- Hope for mankind’s future comes from instilling a deep connectivity consciousness in our youth.
In writing this series of posts, I have gained greater insight into Nature’s vital interconnections as well as the issues facing the necessary preservation of Nature’s interconnectivity. I started the series with gloomy predictions about the potential negative effects of the massive population growth of mankind. This phenomena has been called the Anthropocene – the epoch of man. I went on to offer a more positive outlook as I acknowledged Nature’s resilience and mankind’s slow but steady recognition that Nature needs to be connected and that our hope for survival as a race comes from conserving that connectivity. In particular, I explored the creation of wildlife corridors and biosphere reserves as two ways by which some of humanity seeks to incorporate human needs with that of Nature.
These are encouraging signs. However, much work needs to be done if we are going to achieve a meaningful balance between Nature’s most invasive creature, mankind, and the rest of Nature. As I wrote these blog posts, I became increasingly aware of the intense conflict that seems to exist between those who draw upon Nature’s resources to gain their livelihood and those who wish to conserve Nature’s connections. Most certainly financial gain is far more important to many individuals and corporations than is the welfare of our ecosystems.
As I see it, there are at least two hurdles:
- Within the halls of science, there is still a lack of consensus about the best ways to conserve Nature.
- The negative impact of political will that is driven by economics.
There is a very interesting article, The Battle For The Soul Of Conservation Science, that describes two major worldviews by the conservation community. One camp, led by Michael Soule, believes in a bio-centric ethic where Nature must be protected from human activities. This worldview advocates large tracts of land like wilderness areas and Nature preserves being dedicated to ecosystem protection and preservation. Soule’s way of protecting Nature aims to either keep Nature separate from humans or keeping human contact under tight control.
The seemingly opposite worldview calls for Nature and mankind to work in harmony for the good of both. This worldview has been led by Peter Kareiva of The Nature Conservancy. Kareiva has argued that keeping mankind away from Nature is untenable on a planet of seven billion people.
Positive things can be said about the value of each worldview. Earlier in this series I wrote about the employment of biosphere reserves where both worldviews are brought together in a hopeful synergy that protects Nature while addressing the realities of mankind’s huge ecological footprint in this point of our earth’s history. I would hope that the halls of science come together and join these two worldviews because a solid scientific basis is essential to all conservation programs.
A truly insidious negative factor in the preservation of Nature’s ecosystems on a local and a global basis is political will. Political will employs the use of money to gain great influence by a few people over many people. Political will operates in an inconspicuous or seemingly harmless way but, in reality, with grave effect. The enemies of conservation are well-resourced, focused, and not distracted by the chatter about who has the moral high ground. In the United States, we see special interest groups like farmers, ranchers, large food technology corporations, the petroleum industry and mining interests pouring huge amounts of money into the political war chests of influential politicians. Call it what you want, but it is bribery. It is a world wide phenomenon that affects Nature’s connections in many ways
A well publicized example of political will is the issues surrounding an important top predator, the wolf. Many ranchers see wolves as an economic threat rather than a part of Nature. Eventually, political “donations” from ranchers trickle into the hands of politicians. The politicians can apply pressure on the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other bureaucracies because these politicians set the annual budgets for those government agencies that claim to conserve public lands on behalf of the American people. The pressure results in these groups setting wolf killing quotas. The US Department of Agriculture even has a division that does much of the killing so as to protect the rancher. They call it “harvesting”. This all takes place even though science has shown that top predators like the wolf are essential to healthy ecosystems.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a powerful and rich Washington lobby that represents, in part, hunters who enjoy killing wolves for trophies. Huge amounts of money are placed in the hands of politicians. The politicians then pressure these government bureaucracies to allow trophy killing to take place. Somehow, the hunting community tries to convince the rest of the world that their killing sprees serve to conserve Nature. This so-called wildlife culling is endorsed by the government as a conservation measure. Modern science has shown this to be false.
A story closer to home for me occurred near the San Pedro River in Southeastern Arizona. I have written a blog post about this important river and its bird migration flyway. The river is a riparian preserve managed by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Cattle grazing within the preserve is prohibited because the shoots of new cottonwood trees are eaten by the cattle. These trees are vital to the protection of migrating birds. There have been various reports of ILLEGAL cattle grazing with the BLM not enforcing the regulations. One citizen created a video of a rancher actually cutting BLM fences so that his cattle could graze along the river bed. When a community member protested to the BLM several times, he was quietly informed that the word had come down from Washington, DC not to interfere with the cattle operations.
I am quick to add that these problems are not unique to the USA. It happens in all countries. I live in Mexico where I watched as political corruption threatened an estuary’s ecosystem. In this case, I am happy to report that a strong showing from the scientific community and local residents stopped the politicians. Another heartening recent story comes out of Mexico where a US Government agency thought they knew best for a Mexican community by insisting on building a dam with the encouragement of the Mexican government. The protest power of the local community defeated the project.
Back in the USA, the Colorado sand dunes were threatened by private water interests. In one of my blog posts , I described the process of education, good science , strong community support, and the backing of the US National Park Service to defeat the project.
It is an unfortunate fact that political payoffs and the economic greed of a few can circumvent the best intentions of those who wish to conserve Nature. It is not a problem that will go away quickly or easily. You might be quick to point out that many Nature groups use political systems to influence legislators. The difference is that Nature groups try to educate rather than to bribe. Nature organizations that are involved in the political scene serve to educate both the politician and the politician’s constituents. Re-election doesn’t take place because of the size of a politician’s bank account. Instead, re-election takes place because both the politician and his constituents are in agreement on key environmental issues when the facts of those issues are honestly presented. Indeed, the political process becomes a process of education. This brings me to the third point in this blog’s credo:
Hope for mankind’s future comes from instilling a deep connectivity consciousness in our youth.
I believe that education is the best weapon to fight corruption as conservationists work to preserve Nature’s connections. In the example concerning the Mexican estuary, scientists informed and educated the good guys in government and the community about the value of the estuary. The bad guy only cared about himself. In the end, the bad guy was defeated because the good guys had the facts and knew the consequences of the bad guy’s actions. The facts came from the education process. The political system was used in a positive way – stopping the bad guy rather than seeking financial gain.
To take this point further, strong environmental education programs with our younger generations will help overcome political will because more people will be informed. That s why our hope is with our youth. They have the time to carry on if we older folks will take time to mentor and educate them. I’ve seen this take place with children who live in Mexican fishing villages. The Mexican government provides regular environmental education programs that are directed at the youth of these villages. In this way, the parents get the message. The idea is that education is an easier and more effective way to enforce fishing regulations than by employing police power.
I hope that this series has helped you think further about the conservation of Nature’s connections that are so important to her being able to transport and transform the energy that we all need to live.
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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.