Ecological and social justice should proceed hand-in-hand in conservation

Haydn Washington, John J. Piccolo*, Helen Kopnina, Fergus O'Leary Simpson

*Corresponding author for this work

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We highlight the need for ecological justice and ecological ethics to go hand in hand with social justice in conservation science. We focus on the importance of ecocentric (non-anthropocentric) worldviews for advancing both social and ecological justice. While acknowledging the need to “decolonize” conservation, we question whether conservation a whole may be justifiably termed “colonial”; noting that colonialism in the name of profit and political power has long been a main driver of both human rights abuses and biodiversity loss. Moreover, modern conservation science explicitly strives for social justice and equity while protecting biological diversity and thus ought not to be conflated with colonialism's long and unjust history. We suggest that efforts to portray modern conservation science as patriarchal, racist, and colonial are shortsighted, disregarding longstanding efforts by conservationists to reconcile social and ecological values. Such critiques may adopt a patronizing approach to Indigenous and local peoples, portraying them as idealized guardians. Such views may obscure the complex socio-economic conditions that leave indigenous and local communities vulnerable to resource exploitation; these factors must be understood if these groups are to fulfil their vital role as conservation allies. We conclude that the conservation community should shift focus toward targeting the main political actors and economic structures that oppress both humans and non-humans alike. A more nuanced appreciation of the shared history of colonialism and conservation may illuminate how social and ecological values converge in the mission of sustaining the ecological life support system on which every human and non-human being depends.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110456
Number of pages7
JournalBiological Conservation
Early online date23 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024

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