Protect nature from man or man in nature

Alexander Minin, a leading researcher at the Institute of Global Climate and Ecology of Roshydromet and the Russian Academy of Sciences, is trying to defuse the agility with which many assess their participation in environmental change. “Man’s claims to preserve nature can be compared to the calls of fleas to save an elephant,” he rightly concludes. 

The actual failure of last year’s international environmental forum on climate change in Copenhagen made the Doctor of Biology think about the legitimacy of the slogan “nature conservation”. 

Here is what he writes: 

In society, there are, in my opinion, two approaches in relation to nature: the first is the traditional “nature conservation”, the solution of individual environmental problems as they appear or are discovered; the second is the preservation of man as a biological species in the nature of the Earth. Obviously, development strategies in these areas will differ. 

In recent decades, the first path prevails, and Copenhagen 2009 became its logical and significant milestone. It seems that this is a dead-end path, although very attractive. Dead end for several reasons. Man’s claims to preserve nature can be compared to the calls of fleas to save an elephant. 

The biosphere of the Earth is the most complex system, the principles and mechanisms of functioning of which we have just begun to learn. It has traveled a long (several billion years) path of evolution, withstood many planetary cataclysms, accompanied by an almost complete change in the subjects of biological life. Despite the seeming, by astronomical scale, ephemeral nature (the thickness of this “film of life” is several tens of kilometers), the biosphere has demonstrated incredible stability and vitality. The limits and mechanisms of its stability are still not clear. 

Man is only a part of this amazing system, which emerged by evolutionary standards a few “minutes” ago (we are about 1 million years old), but we position ourselves as a global threat only in the last few decades – “seconds”. The system (biosphere) of the Earth will preserve itself, and simply get rid of the elements that disturb its balance, as it happened millions of times in the history of the planet. How it will be with us is a technical question. 

Second. The struggle for the preservation of nature takes place not with a cause, but with consequences, the number of which inevitably grows every day. As soon as we saved the bison or the Siberian Crane from extinction, dozens and hundreds of species of animals, the existence of which we do not even suspect, are endangered. We will solve the problems of climate warming – no one can guarantee that in a few years we will not be concerned about progressive cooling (especially since, in parallel with warming, a very real process of global dimming is unfolding, which weakens the greenhouse effect). And so on. 

The main reason for all these problems is well known – the market model of the economy. Even at the beginning of the last century, it huddled on a patch of Europe, the whole world lived on the principles of a traditional economy. Nowadays, this model is rapidly and diligently being implemented around the world. Thousands of plants, factories, excavators, oil, gas, timber, coal mining and processing complexes around the world are working to meet the ever-growing needs of citizens. 

If this Samoyed process is not stopped, then the solution of certain environmental problems, as well as the preservation of man, turns into a fight against windmills. To stop means to limit consumption, and radically. Is society (primarily Western society, because so far it is their consumption that spins this resource-devouring spiral) ready for such a restriction and a virtual rejection of the principles of a market economy? With all the apparent concern of Western countries with environmental problems and their willingness to solve them, it is hard to believe in the rejection of the “basics of democracy”. 

Probably half of the indigenous population of Europe sits in various commissions, committees, working groups for conservation, protection, control … etc. Ecological organizations arrange actions, write appeals, receive grants. This situation suits many, including the public and politicians (there is a place to show themselves), businessmen (another lever in the competitive struggle, and more and more significant every day). Over the past few decades, we have witnessed the emergence of a series of different global “environmental threats” (“ozone hole”, mad cow disease, swine and bird flu, etc.). A significant part of them quickly disappeared, but funds were allocated for their study or fight against them, and considerable ones, and someone received these funds. Moreover, the scientific side of the problems probably takes no more than a few percent, the rest is money and politics. 

Returning to the climate, it should be noted that none of the “opponents” of warming is opposed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But this is not a problem of nature, but ours. It is obvious that emissions (any) must be minimized, but why tie this topic to the problem of climate change? A slight cold snap like this winter (with huge losses for Europe!) can play a negative role against this background: the “opponents” of the theory of anthropogenic climate warming will get a trump card to remove any restrictions on emissions at all: nature, they say, is coping well enough. 

The strategy of preserving man as a biological species, in my opinion, is more meaningful, clearer from ecological and economic positions than the struggle on many fronts for the conservation of nature. If any convention is needed in the field of nature protection, then this is a convention on the conservation of man as a biological species. It should reflect (taking into account traditions, customs, way of life, etc.) the basic requirements for the human environment, for human activities; in national legislations, these requirements should be reflected and strictly enforced, adapted to their conditions. 

Only by understanding our place in the biosphere can we preserve ourselves in nature and minimize our negative impact on it. In this way, by the way, the problem of nature conservation, which is attractive to the concerned part of society, will also be solved.

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