Amazon Conservation in the Age of Development: The Limits of Providence

By Ronald A. Foresta | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Although a vast normative literature has grown up around biological conservation, its analytic traditions are weak. Perhaps because of conservation's great moral freight, it has tended to attract acolytes rather than critical scholars. Those who have studied the evolution of conservation thought or the rise of the organized conservation movement have tended to be active conservationists themselves, and, perhaps because of their insiders' perspective, they have treated these processes as endogenic. Students of conservation also have generally preferred to address conservation issues in restricted, local contexts rather than grapple with the question of how conservation has been shaped by its wider sociopolitical environment, again perhaps because they are usually insiders. This has left biological conservation with a set of ideals, a storehouse of tactics, and even a fairly well understood sense of its own history as a sequence of events, but it has also left its relationship to the main currents of twentieth-century history, its place in the ideological and political world of the late twentieth century, and even its relationship with the biological science of our era only poorly understood. Likewise, it has left its complexion as a political force largely unknown.

Biological conservation takes place within a vast temporal and moral context. The current wave of human-induced extinctions might surpass that at the end of the Mesozoic Era, 65 million years ago. 1 Insuring that the products of billions of years of evolution get through the narrow passage of the present into a future that will, it is hoped, be more hospitable to them is one of the basic aims of today's conservation movement. 2 Yet, in spite of this temporal depth of concern, its lack of a broad sociopolitical perspective leads to an exaggerated sense of immediacy. Extremes of hope and despair abound among those close to biological conservation, often giving way to each other with startling speed. An environmentally sensitive admin-

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