Publication date: 31/05/2016


The need to mitigate human impacts on species and natural systems has made conservation science a major multidisciplinary discipline. Society and conservation science have tried unsuccessfully to resolve this need within the growth paradigm. We show that its resolution increasingly demands profound shifts in societal values. The aim of this paper is to identify the nature of these necessary shifts and to explore how they define future paths for conservation science.

Increasing human population interacts with local and global environments to deplete biodiversity and resources humans depend on, thus challenging societal values centered on growth and relying on technology to mitigate environmental stress. Although the need to address the environmental crisis, central to conservation science, generated greener versions of the growth paradigm, we need fundamental shifts in values that ensure transition from a growth-centered society to one acknowledging biophysical limits and centered on human well-being and biodiversity conservation. We discuss the role conservation science can play in this transformation, which poses ethical challenges and obstacles.

The authors analyze how conservation and economics can achieve better consonance, the extent to which technology should be part of the solution, and difficulties the “new conservation science” has generated. An expanded ambition for conservation science should reconcile day-to-day action within the current context with uncompromising, explicit advocacy for radical transitions in core attitudes and processes that govern our interactions with the biosphere. A widening of its focus to understand better the interconnectedness between human well-being and acknowledgment of the limits of an ecologically functional and diverse planet will need to integrate ecological and social sciences better. Although ecology can highlight limits to growth and consequences of ignoring them, social sciences are necessary to diagnose societal mechanisms at work, how to correct them, and potential drivers of social change.

Resource type: Web page URL