Dr Chris Sandbrook posted a piece on the ‘The three most dangerous narratives in conservation’ on his blog Thinking Like a Human .  Here he sounds a warning about ‘ tremendous lengths that (most of) the conservation sector has gone to over the last few decades to repackage and represent the value of nature in monetary terms’. Chris’s post was interesting and stimulating and he also states that these narratives are ‘not entirely false, but their ‘truth’ has become accepted as orthodoxy to the extent that they slip by almost unnoticed.’

I have been thinking about a post around Natural Capital for some time, especially since George Monbiot’s article The UK government wants to put a price on nature – but that will destroy it. I’m personally uncomfortable with the approach, but i think we have to accept that until we shift our current economic paradigm, its the right tool in many situations going forward.

So, my reply:

Thanks Chris for this stimulating piece. However I think one of the dangerous narratives in conservation is the rise of voices AGAINST natural capital and monetising of nature as a tool to protect and preserve the environment under the current economic system. Scott H posted above that ‘Traditional conservation has failed to halt the decline of biodiversity over the past 50 years, so we have to do something else’ which is right but he doesn’t say why he disagrees with this.

The danger in dismissing natural capital approaches is that this plays in to a binary approach to problem solving. The environment is part of a complex system which like it or not is bound up intrinsically with human development and wellbeing. Solving the issue of reducing the scale of our impact on the biosphere will necessitate a range of solutions.

Natural capital one might argue is the only adaptive approach to our current economic system, which isn’t going to change radically very soon. Of course we need to be innovative and find new ways to live and do business with each other, and there are many organisation around the world doing great work exploring these transformative pathways.

More on this soon.

Thinking like a human

Emery Roe, an American policy scholar, first developed the idea that ‘narratives’ – stories about the world and how it works – are used in policy making processes to cut through complexity and justify a particular course of action. We are a storytelling species, and people find it easy to understand and get behind a compelling story with strong internal logic and a beginning, middle and end. Once a narrative has taken hold they can be very difficult to shake off, at least until an even more compelling ‘counter-narrative’ arrives on the scene. A classic example from resource governance is the ‘resources will be over-exploited unless they are in private ownership’ narrative, based on Garrett Hardin’s 1968 Tragedy of the Common’s article. It took decades of careful scholarship, and ultimately a nobel prize for Elinor Ostrom, to demonstrate that this narrative was compelling, influential, and wrong.

There are numerous narratives…

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