The Birth of Another Crisis Discipline
Richard S. Ostfeld
Gary K. Meffe
Mary C. Pearl
The existence of an environmental crisis that includes widespread extinctions, biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, damaging pollution, and global climate change is not in doubt (Groombridge 1992; Meffe et al. 1997; Frumkin 2001). The causes of this crisis are complex and multifaceted, and the severity of its long-term consequences for the earth's biota, including human health, is difficult to predict. Scientists are increasingly recognizing that solutions to the environmental crisis will be as complex and interrelated as the factors that have led to the crisis. In 1986 one of the pioneers in the field, Michael Soule´, called conservation biology a “crisis discipline. ” By this he meant that action must be taken without complete knowledge, because waiting to collect full and complete data could mean inaction that would destroy the effort. Consequently, conservation biologists usually work under a high degree of uncertainty, as do ecologists in general. Conservation medicine (CM), like conservation biology before it, is also a “crisis discipline, ” developing in response to a web of problems scientists recognize as beyond the scope of a single health or wildlife management discipline, and requiring intervention with incomplete information (Pullin and Knight 2001).
The principal goals of CM are to develop a scientific understanding of the relationship between the environmental crisis and both human and nonhuman animal health, and to develop solutions to problems at the interface between environmental and health sciences. To accomplish these goals, it will be necessary to define this new discipline, to suggest ways in which CM is connected to other disciplines, to assess its importance, and to anticipate impediments to its strong and rapid development. The purpose of this chapter is to pursue these four actions, drawing upon the other chapters in this book.