Moving the Pieces: Assisted Colonization and Obligations to Non-Human Nature


Up until this point we've been thinking primarily about climate impacts and their implications for human populations. But this, of course, is not the only population that will be affected by climate change.

The Future of Conservation

One of the more curious consequences of all of this emphasis on climate is that more traditionally environmental concerns -- that is, the concerns that have occupied environmental ethicists for decade -- appear to take a back seat to the more anthropocentric considerations regarding loss and damage. Indeed, many in the environmental community lament the way in which the climate discourse has essentially "hijacked" the conservation discourse  

I've echoed these concerns in a piece that I co-authored with my colleagues Dan Doak, Victoria Bakker, and Bruce Goldstein in a piece that got a fair bit of attention: What is the future of conservation? 

But there are, nevertheless, really challenging questions associated with climate change and non-human nature.


Non-Human Nature

Non-human nature is tricky. Some people want to liken it to human nature, but it's clear from even our interactions with our house pets that analogies between humans and the natural world are complicated. These get all the stickier and trickier as we entertain the moral standing of not just animals, but plants, ecosystems, and species.

Consider at least two problems from the restoration literature: the Baseline Problem and the Substitution Problem. The Baseline Problem is a backward looking problem regarding the alleged baseline to which conservation should strive to restore. The Substitution Problem is also a backward problem regarding what sorts of species -- plants or animals -- can serve the a nearly analogous function to a species that no longer exists. 

Both of these backward looking problems are actually a fairly serious for conservation practitioners, and there is considerable debate about how best to address them. But these problems grow considerably more complicated when we start looking forward into the future.

ComET has written extensively on these topics.  See, for instance:

  1. Hermans, AdamAlexander LeeLydia DixonBenjamin Hale. “Wolf Reintroduction: Ecological Management and the Substitution Problem.” Ecological Restoration. 32 (3): 221-228. 2014.
  2. Lee, Alexander, Adam Hermans, Benjamin Hale. Restoration, Obligation, and the Baseline Problem.” Environmental Ethics. 36(2): 171-186. 2014*
  3. Doak, Daniel F., Victoria Bakker, Bruce Evan Goldstein, Benjamin Hale. “Moving forward with effective goals and methods for conservation: a reply to Marvier and Kareiva.” Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 29(3): 132-133. 2014.
  4. Benjamin Hale, Adam Hermans, Alexander Lee. “Clowning Around with Conservation: Adaptation, Reparation, and the New Substitution Problem.” Environmental Values. 23: 181-198. 2014.*
  5. Doak, Daniel F., Victoria Bakker, Bruce Evan Goldstein, Benjamin Hale. “What is the Future of Conservation?” Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Jan, 2014.
  6. Hale, Benjamin, Adam Hermans, Alexander Lee. “Adaptation, Reparation, and the Baseline Problem,” In Toward Successful Adaptation: Linking Science and Practice in Managing Climate Change Impacts. Eds Boykoff, M. T. and Moser, S. C. Routledge. 67-80. 2013.*