Seeing People in Conservation


The Earthscan Reader in Poverty and Biodiversity Conservation . Roe, D., and J. Elliott , editors. 2010. Earthscan, London, U.K. 416 pp. $39.95 (paperback). ISBN 978-1-84407-843-1.

Environmental Social Sciences. Methods and Research Design . Vaccaro, I., E. A. Smith, and S. Aswani , editors. 2010. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. 396 pp. $48 (paperback). ISBN 978-0-521-12571-0.

The Social and Behavioural Aspects of Climate Change. Linking Vulnerability, Adaptation and Mitigation . Martens, P., and C. T. Chang , editors. 2010. Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, U.K. 352 pp. $75 (hardcover). ISBN 978-1-906093-42-6.

Coastal Governance . Burroughs, R. 2010 . Island Press , Washington , D.C. , U.S.A. 200 pp. $21.95 (paperback). ISBN 978-1-59726-485-3.

For much of its history, conservation science was primarily biological. More recently, however, conservation professionals have realized that working with a variety of people is critical and that social scientists can be important partners. What remains at issue is whether conservation professionals need to know about people simply as threats or need to gain a deep understanding of land-use histories and cultural practices. Conservation professionals still disagree on to how and to what extent we must engage with the people our efforts will affect.

This suite of books is centered on the relation of people to conservation. The volumes address how poverty is related to conservation (The Earthscan Reader in Poverty and Biodiversity Conservation), social science methods and methodologies for environmental research (Environmental Social Sciences), and application of social science in realms that are currently drawing a great deal of attention—marine and coastal conservation, mitigation of climate change and proactive efforts to reduce the negative effects of climate change on social, economic, and ecological systems (Coastal Governance and The Social and Behavioural Aspects of Climate Change).

The Earthscan Reader in Poverty and Biodiversity Conservation, edited by Dilys Roe (of International Institute for Environment and Development) and Joanna Elliott (of African Wildlife Foundation), compiled 32 previously published works released mostly since 2000. The volume is premised on the ideas that both biological-diversity loss and poverty are international problems that there are critical links between these problems, and that in certain cases the two issues can be simultaneously addressed. Beyond these general statements, there is a great deal of disagreement on exactly what the links between poverty and conservation are, who should address each issue, and how they should be addressed. Each section of the book corresponds to an area of the poverty-conservation debate, as identified by the editors, and includes an editorial introduction to provide context for the chapters. In many cases, the introduction includes information on the backgrounds and professions of the authors of the chapters. The volume also includes suggested readings and resources, such as databases, information services, and program websites. Poverty and Biodiversity Conservation emphasizes the complexity of the links between conservation and poverty, and its authors argue that the relation is dynamic and context specific, cautioning us that generalities are difficult to find. Chapter authors discuss the concern of many conservation professionals that biological diversity has fallen off the agenda of development organizations while conservation projects are being increasingly expected to alleviate poverty, and several chapters grapple with the respective roles of conservation and development agencies. The authors examine some of the critiques conservation nongovernmental organizations have faced in their dealings with human communities and call for more work on governance and accountability measures for nongovernmental organizations. The final two sections of the book cover future directions in conservation, focusing on payments for ecosystem services and partnerships to achieve “symbiotic benefits between development and conservation.”

Environmental Social Sciences: Methods and Research Design clearly shows how the social sciences are relevant and necessary to environmental research and provides a wide range of examples to illustrate the use of various methods. Most chapter authors are anthropologists, and although the editors argue that the methods and methodologies included do not “belong” to any particular discipline, the volume could have been enriched by a wider range of contributors. This minor critique aside, the volume does an excellent job of encouraging the use of multiple methods and of blending qualitative and quantitative data and analyses. Chapters address such varied methods as demography, time-allocation studies, institutional analyses, ethnobiology, social-network analysis; spatial analysis and remote sensing, and multiple-site ethnography. The editors argue that the complexity of environmental research requires multifaceted methodological approaches and that there is a strong need for a combination of “localized and multisited research, synchronic and diachronic perspectives, and discursive, statistical, or spatial analyses” (p. 3).

The Social and Behavioural Aspects of Climate Change is the result of the Vulnerability, Adaptation, Mitigation (VAM) research program of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, which was geared toward providing a platform for the social sciences to engage in research on climate change. In what is becoming a familiar refrain, the editors argue that it is the complexity of climate change that necessitates better interdisciplinary collaboration. The book has 15 chapters divided into three sections: Industries, Local Communities, and Institutions. The industry subjects treated are inland navigation, tourism, partnerships of companies with nongovernmental organizations, government agencies, and other companies, and energy conservation. The second section, “Local Communities” examines the effect of hurricanes on local communities, local knowledge and experiences in development of strategies to reduce vulnerability to climate change (processes that are designed to reduce vulnerability in response to observed or expected changes in climate are commonly referred to as “climate change adaptation” in policy arenas), local drivers of such strategies, and the effect of simulating flood events on attitudes. The final section, “Institutions,” explores interactions among various policy instruments, the legal principles of European Union climate law, challenges to both mitigating climate change and reducing vulnerability to it, and the incorporation of these two elements in integrated assessment models. Finally the section presents scenarios of the devastation that could occur as the climate changes.

Coastal Governance is not an edited volume and is designed as a classroom text, complete with discussion questions for each chapter. Although the title does not indicate it, this book addresses U.S. coastal and marine policy exclusively. The preface to the book places humans firmly at the center of the discussion of coastal governance, arguing that the discussion is ultimately about “the values people share and the actions they take” (p. xiii). It identifies coastal environmental problems and explains the policy process for addressing them. Three types of management approaches are examined: sector-based management (problem solving based on individual uses or sectors [e.g. shipping or oil exploration]), spatial management (working across individual uses to create a coherent approach for a geographical unit), and ecosystem governance. The shortcomings of sector and spatial approaches are clearly illustrated, and the relevant U.S. laws are presented systematically. Because few coastal management efforts are conducted at the level of ecosystems, the author envisions how an ecosystem approach to coastal management might work and what it might accomplish. A goal of the author is to prepare students to work in the field of marine and coastal governance at a time when such governance is evolving rapidly. Coastal managers need to understand the political realities of their work, and the book hints at the influence of industry groups on policy, the role of the state in management, and the politics involved in such things as the definition of a wetland.

In the past few years, the discussion about people in conservation has shifted to include such things as human rights and the integration of those rights into conservation policy and practice, markets as a way to conserve resources and to finance conservation, and closer collaboration between biological and social sciences. Developments in accountability of nongovernmental organizations and in payments for ecosystem services and other economic mechanisms for conservation are emerging so quickly that, as timely and important as these volumes are, new knowledge gaps in these areas are being created that need to be filled. It is still urgent that conservation professionals engage with a wide variety of social scientists, including but not limited to economists, and that we improve the relationship between academics and practitioners on the ground.