Conservation science still rests on how animals can benefit humans

The accelerating loss of other species around the globe is so extensive that many experts now refer to it as the sixth mass extinction. It’s driven in large part by an unprecedented loss of vital ecosystems such as forests and wetlands, the result of social and economic systems that are focused on constant growth.

The latest UN Biodiversity Conference, COP15, the second session of which is due to take place in October 2022, aims to implement ambitious measures for stemming biodiversity loss. The ultimate goal is to establish harmony between humans and nature by 2050.

However, in a recent academic article, we argue that key players such as the body of conservation scientists that produces reports on biodiversity for the UN, continue to prioritise human wellbeing above all else. This prioritisation may stem from an anthropocentric culture that typically considers humans to be separate from and of greater value than other species.

To effectively address our extinction crisis, we argue that we need more than merely technical advances or policies that remain mired in anthropocentric assumptions. Rather, we need fundamental changes in how we view and value nature and other species.

Anthropocentrism results in the treatment of other species and nature as objects and resources for human ends. This assumption still underlies the way many people approach conservation.

In environmental science and resource management, the concepts of “natural resources” and “ecosystem services” reflect the prevailing anthropocentric approach for assessing natural value, especially through cost-benefit economic analyses.

Such approaches ask how much a given natural entity, such as a forest or an animal species, is worth, and then attempt to assign a monetary value to it. Policies based on trading carbon credits or paying countries for not clearing their forests are examples of this.


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