Justice in the Anthropocene

Conservation groups have begun to pay more attention to the needs of indigenous peoples. Today, most conservation groups have policies of best practice intended to protect the rights of local communities, and conservation, and conservationists are increasingly hiring social scientists and anthropologists who incorporate indigenous people into their conservation strategies. That’s a good move, but it’s just a beginning. Conservation will be controversial as long as it remains so narrowly focused on the creation of parks and protected areas, and insists, often unfairly, that local people cannot be trusted to care for their land. People will not protect the Earth if they are not protected themselves.
"Consider the decline of the orangutan, which has been largely attributed to the logging of their forest habitats. Recent field studies suggest that humans are killing the orangutans for bush meat and bounty at rates far greater than anyone suspected, and it is this practice, not deforestation, that places orangutans at the greatest peril. In order to save the orangutan, conservationists will also have to address the problem of food and income deprivation in Indonesia. That means conservationists will have to embrace human development and the 'exploitation of nature' for human uses, like agriculture, even while they seek to 'protect' nature inside of parks." (Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, Michelle Marvier, "Conservation in the Anthropocene," Breakthrough Journal, Fall 2011. Click here.)
As a recent article in Breakthrough Journal argues:
“In the developing world, efforts to constrain growth and protect forests from agriculture are unfair, if not unethical, when directed at the 2.5 billion people who live on less than two dollars a day and the one billion who are chronically hungry.” (Kareiva, Lalasz, Marvier, "Conservation in the Anthropocene.")
Conservation has had a hard row to hoe when it has battled the interests of the wealthy. Better to make common cause than to fight, for many of those wealthy love trees and parks, and generously fund conservation efforts. If conservation is doing battle with two or three billion people who need to feed and house themselves, it doesn’t stand a chance. Conservation cannot win against numbers that large. Better to make common cause than to fight.
“By pitting people against nature, conservationists actually create an atmosphere in which people see nature as the enemy.” (Kareiva, Lalasz, Marvier, "Conservation in the Anthropocene.")
When we ignore people justice in the name of Earth justice, we court retaliation from the people. For example, the Ugandan government created Lake Mburo National Park in 1982.
“In the name of preserving the wildlife, the government violently expelled thousands of men, women, and children from the surrounding region, without compensation. . . . In 1986, a new government encouraged these conservation refugees to resettle their former homelands, where they promptly slaughtered wildlife and vandalized the park facilities in retribution.” (Kareiva, Lalasz, Marvier, "Conservation in the Anthropocene")
I love our Unitarian Universalist seventh principle – “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” And I love our sixth source – “Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.” Many non-UUs also love those ideals. We love them so much that sometimes we forget that our fifth principle says we covenant to affirm and promote “ . . . the use of the democratic process . . . in society at large.”

People justice means the people get a vote, and the people vote with their feet and their hands and their lives. They vote for food, shelter, clean water, arable land. If these things are ensured – and if education is provided and women are empowered – they will also vote to have fewer children.

“Economic development” rings like a bad word – but that’s because it has for far too long meant more wealth for the wealthy. Much more equitable distribution of resources is what we need: economic development for those who have hardly had any. The Breakthrough Journal article concludes:
“The conservation we will get by embracing human well-being will almost certainly not be the conservation that was imagined in its early days. But it will be more effective and far more broadly supported.” (Kareiva, Lalasz, Marvier, "Conservation in the Anthropocene")
I have evolved. Since LoraKim and I, strolling along a trail at “The Mountain” in 1999, had an argument about a rock, my spiritual understanding of trees, rivers, oceans, mountains, prairies, deserts, soil – and rocks – has deepened and widened. Rocks may not have a central nervous system, but they have a place in a vast and fluid harmony. The call to “protect the lives of minerals” draws from me a gentler motion of my life. It teaches me to walk with a lighter step, and in greater harmony. That spiritual growth would not have been possible if I had faced hunger every day.

Justice for the earth will require justice for her people.

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Part 5 of 5 of "Earth Justice, People Justice"
Previous: Part 4: "The Beauty and the Tragedy"
Beginning: Part 1: "The Rock and the Mountain"

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