Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Larger Conservation Community by Laura Bies

In this section of the book, Wilson touches on a few different communities and their contributions to or position regarding conservation. Raff is clearly meant to be part of what is probably viewed as the mainstream, liberal environmental community. In the context of explaining Raff’s trips to the shooting range, he talks about the role of hunters and anglers in conservation. While not a hunter himself, Raff recognizes the value of sportsmen in conservation. Raff and his colleagues at Sunderland talk about the politically conservative culture in their area and the extent to which those citizens support conservation. Raff also has a run in with a religious community, in the form of LeBow and his cronies.

Of these three groups, Wilson seems to view hunters and anglers as most supportive of conservation. I think this is true – the sportsmen’s community is very supportive of conservation. In the future, one of the strongest and most effective alliances for conservation may well be between the ‘green’ community and sportsmen. Raff also tried to explain to his colleagues that the politically conservative citizens of their area care about conservation. Do you think conservatives or liberals are more likely to support conservation? I thought Wilson’s portrayal of the religious community, through LeBow’s group, surprising. Obviously, this group represents a fringe group, not mainstream religion. It also adds an interesting twist to the plot. I’ve certainly never had a similar experience as environmental attorney! What was your reaction to this portrayal? Do you think it added to the story overall?


Kate said...

Hi Laura - I think the liberal versus conservative question is a really powerful one. I'm not quite sure how to tackle it directly, other than to say that in general, I think often environmental/conservation issues get associated with liberal agendas, and to the extent that we can keep these issues separate from broader agendas, I think it benefits the conservation cause. I think Raff is trying to make the point to his colleagues that conservatives do care about their own "backyards" just as much as anyone. My experience is that we are all concerned with our own quality of life, whether we're conservative or liberal. However, I do think there are people in both groups - liberals and conservatives - that are the "conservation enlightened," they're already supportive. These people perhaps tend to be more moderate, but often these are the folks who can reach others in their same group and motivate them to action.

Mark said...

Hi Laura,

Very nice analysis--highly informative. Speaking as a historian, sportsmen played a critical role in the formation of the American conservation movement and continue to do so. Groups like the Boone and Crockett Club and individuals like George Bird Grinnell and Theodore Roosevelt helped create the turn-of-the-century conservation movement. The challenge we face is incorporating other groups to support conservation the way sportsmen have and also keeping conservation a priority for these groups.

As for the religious sect, I assumed (like the Gaians) they are a crude stereotype for dramatic purposes. Actually religious groups interested in stewardship may be one of the fastest growing constituencies for the conservation movement.

Jim said...

Hi Laura - Environmental conservation should be a completely bipartisan issue. Who would not be supportive of clean air and water, healthy forests and aquatic habitats, and diverse wildlife populations?

Unfortunately environmental conservation has become very polarized in the USA right now with liberals associated with protections of clean air and water, alternative energy, climate change and wilderness legislation while conservatives are associated with traditional coal, oil and gas development, denial of the human-caused climate change and against more federal lands designated as wilderness, and thus shut off from mineral extraction and other uses.

Theoretically, traditional hunting and fishing interests should be aligned with liberals on environmental issues. If they are not, it might be due to the social agenda of liberals being against some of the positions held by more conservative rural communities. Positions on the environment become overlaid and conflated with social positions, confusing the politics.

Sometimes the more conservative political elements appear to take an anti-science position which is directly antithetical to the conservation of nature, which is fundamentally a very scientific-based process.

Raff was very dismissive of the Gaians, the most liberal environmentalists portrayed in the book, as naive, unrealistic and hypocritical. He preferred the win-win position of so-called "sustainable development" landowning interests. They were portrayed in the book as tending to be middle-of-the-road to shading toward conservative politically. A more progressive environmentalist might take Raff to task for advocating sustainable development in the last remaining undeveloped swampland in Alabama, an area, that could be argued, should not have any development at all.

Laura Bies said...

Thanks for the good comments, all. E. O.Wilson explored the connection between environmentalism and religion more thoroughly in his 2006 book, The Creation. I haven’t read it yet, but am really wishing I had!

@ Jim, you bring up an interesting point with the idea of partial development being a ‘win-win.’ There’s a distinction between in a situation in which both sides truly do win and one in which the two sides compromise and neither get what they really want. Is this a good example of win-win, or should the whole tract have been protected? I’ll talk about this more in my post tomorrow…

Karene said...

Laura, I have really enjoyed reading your thought provoking posts this week. Thank you so much for being part of this!