we don't need to change how we do conservation, we need to change why we do it

The Problem with Confusing Environmentalism and Conservation

www.knowswhy.com /difference-between-ecology-and-ecosystem/ : Ecology is the study of the interaction between organisms and their environment. The word ecology comes from the Greek words “oikos” meaning house and “logos” meaning word or study. Ecology today can be divided into two broad domains. The author Christian Lévêque uses the terms population ecology and systemic ecology to refer to them.

When I say there is a problem, I am firstly thinking about my own difficulty with trying to convince well-meaning environmentalists that, despite all the current talk about the need for humans to become better integrated with “our Natural environment”, technological systems are, by purely evo-ecological reasoning, incompatible with fully diversified Natural systems. Most people can’t even imagine why I would say that, but I think this is simply because “environmentalism” draws only on the unifying logic of Christian Lévêque’s “systemic ecology”; and, in their understandable sense of urgency, environmentalists find it inconvenient to follow the multiplicity-based principles of “population ecology” to their logical conclusion. The above website distinguishes Lévêque’s two ecologies this way:

In systemic ecology, both the living and non-living components of the environment are considered in depth. Systemic ecology will often look at non-biological aspects of the environment such as the transfer of matter and energy through different trophic levels as well as biogeochemical cycles. … Population ecology focuses on the interaction between species or populations and between populations and their environments. This branch of ecology does consider non-biological factors, but it is primarily concerned with the living world. Population ecology can be studied on multiple scales including individual organisms, populations, and biological communities.

I can easily understand why most of us would naturally gravitate to the systemic view when considering the relationship between Humans and Nature: the metaphysical construct of universal inter-connectivity is intuitively appealing, because it seems more “spiritual” than the scientific principles derived from fastidious study of the multiplicity, abundances, and distributions of species. But this is where “the problem” takes on a more generally worrisome form. When, in all of the history of human kind, has the abstract knowledge if their inter-connectivity ever moved whole populations to change their course? At best, the feeling of “oneness” is an object of contemplation that can promote maturity in individuals who have already achieved a degree of personal openness through experience; at worst it is an elitist affectation, and a cop-out. Here is how I expressed the matter in Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice:

So now, when we ask what does it mean to be human in the Natural world, it soon becomes a pivotal issue whether or not natural selection’s everyday priority is to limit behavioural flexibility by pruning out all behaviours that don’t conform to species-normal body structures. For if the answer is yes, then it becomes obvious that technology compels a radical departure from this Natural state of affairs, and this must not be overlooked by holding to a sentimental (and indeed self-serving) Man-As-Part-Of-Nature Environmentalism. After all, ‘oneness’ is not an ecological, but a metaphysical, mental construct; the more we think about one-ness, the less we really have to think about, and while this points us in the right direction ‘spiritually’ (though unlike silent practice, it doesn’t act-ually get us there … sorry, get us here), it’s of no use to us whatsoever scientifically.

In historical fact — and here we might refer all the way back to the writings of Marshall McLuhan — it is the application of scientific insights that has ever changed the course of human behaviour en masse. And so it is only by taking into account the well established evo-ecological principles derived from painstaking study of the living world around us (competitive exclusion, structural change through functional shift, etc,) that we will arrive at a truly transformative view of what it means to be Human in the Natural world. Until then the conservation of myriad Naturally regulated species will take a back seat to the immediate interests of one unregulated, technologically adaptive, primate who thinks he’s an integral part of their co-evolution just because he walks under the same sun and breaths the same air. In reality, we wouldn’t only not be missed if we disappeared from their ecological space, but our disengagement would cause their more Natural populations to once again flourish! My own attempt at contributing to this transformation in our view of Humans and Nature is summarized in THE EXTREMOPHILE CHOICE: A QUICK TOUR which you can download free from any page on this website.


  1. Hi Ken Christenson,

    I saw you think “green”. We are a bunch of heroes who want to save the world. Come join us ! http://www.3savers.com|0|0}!|0|0}

    Keep making the world a better place!

    1. You are right in as much as everyone can be a hero in their own unique way, and certainly every child deserves, and needs, to hear this message.

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