What is Conservation?
~ Dan Novak ~

What is conservation really?! …

I would suggest that all of us change the term ‘conservation’ to the much more adequate identifying description, “Conservation, Ecological Design, and Holistic Development.”

Grand Canyon Falls by Mary Doo

The term ‘conservation’ is a misnomer – or incomplete at best. Actually it is quite mischievous: while conserving is generally thought to be a good, the word conservation tends to have primarily negative connotations, like limits, constraints, regulations, avoiding dangers, cutting down or cutting back, belt-tightening, doing without, (all of which are necessary, of course), not to mention prognostications of doom and gloom!

In our situated work as local conservation commissioners we oppose what we think is bad development for our town, try to maintain good residential, commercial, and industrial standards for those proposals that are not overtly destructive of our environment and quality of life. And finally, we try to encourage open space preservation and what might be called optimal development in our locality.

While big box development and suburban sprawl might not be the way to go, what ‘optimal development’ is might be controversial and open to debate. One man’s trophy home is another person’s eco-efficiency disaster. Does increasing affordable housing stock mean further environmental pressure? Are recreation venues and benign green industrial and intensive residential development necessarily opposed to pristine pastures, beautiful coastlines and viewscapes?

Of course as the world gets more integrated into the global setting, it becomes harder and harder not to take notice of the larger processes in which we are embedded: an environmental catastrophe of gigantic proportions affects us all. A tremor – not to mention an earthquake – in national-international financial systems affects us all. A skewed economy affects us all. Massive extinctions of species, burning of rainforests, trashing of oceans, a questionable food chain, continued overpopulation and general environmental degradation (gated communities vs. ghettoes, far-away escapes that deny what is going on around us, offshore corporate tax havens, etc., etc.) affects us all more and more directly every day. Isolation from all these encompassing patterns becomes more and more impossible to maintain. We come to the realization that the earth is our collective boat and collective responsibility.

How do we apply these mind-boggling and growing realizations locally?

How can we point out, encourage, and advocate for positive directions?

What should be the basis for our judgments in municipal advisory reviews?

What is missing from the term conservation that might better describe our mission?

There are six beacons, six markers or standards, we might explore in an expanded notion of conservation, ecological design, and holistic development:

  1. PRESERVATION — Wilderness and wildness, pristine areas, open spaces, respect for native flora and fauna, set-asides for recreation and solitude, land and river reclamation, clear and dark night skies are all refreshing, wonderful and necessary for the human spirit.
  2. ECOLOGICAL THINKING – SPACE – appreciating the diversity of companion species and sustaining natural plant, animal, soil, mineral, and water resources and creaturely kinship networks, appreciating the continuum of our natural relationships and hidden ecologies, appreciating and taking into account human sensory, dwelling and cultural environments as well as natural contexts.

    Alaskan Grizzly Family by Mary Doo

    Alaskan Grizzly Family by Mary Doo

  3. ECOLOGICAL THINKING — TIME – taking the ‘long view,’ the habit of long range thinking, considering long range, cumulative, and possible effects, considering different build-outs of development and scenarios of the future, given current trends and unanticipatable events; envisioning desirable future scenarios, taking a large temporal view of human habits and predictable behavior, including technological developments and breakthroughs, into account; thinking in terms of generations,“seven generations and beyond – even millennia! — asking the question of whether we humans do in fact have a cumulative effect on the long range history of the earth; intelligent perception as being consciously and deliberately proactive.
  4. ECOLOGICAL THINKING – ECOLOGICAL DESIGN AND HOLISTIC, HUMAN DEVELOPMENT – thinking in terms of holistic patterns of development, building in efficiency and sustainability for sure, but this means more ingenious, inventive, innovative, creative and ultimately holistic thinking – taking all factors, interactions and systems into account – in the design, construction, maintenance, and renewal of the human built environment… not only recycling but ‘upcycling” and the intricate internal circulating design of structures and products – ranging from the domestic backyard and homespun to advanced research technologies and clean energy breakthroughs (from the biotic and biotech to nano, cyber and digital domains)… the overall objective being that all human systems become more energy generating than merely consumptive.
  5. ACTIVE PARTICIPATORY LEARNING! — This means not only our on-the-job training, something that any worthwhile job or mission involves – certainly the assimilation of new knowledge — but more learning how to learn, learning how to be ahead of the curve, continual reflection and realization of important and indispensable truths…. all of this shading into active citizen co-creation of the world around us… ultimately learning means taking responsibility…
  6. HEALTHY COMMUNITIES – supporting healthy communities, the commitment to not only non-toxic and non-hazardous and non-polluting products and practices but a commitment to health-enhancing products; taking human health, quality of life, collective welfare — in sum, community values — into account in every building proposal as well as respect for natural features… “conservation development” is really community-conscious development.

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