Thursday, March 15, 2012

Religion and Conservation Biology

In July 2007 I initiated the Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group of the Society for Conservation Biology Because of this, I'm sometimes asked to prepare comments addressing the intersection of religion and environmental work.  The following was prepared for Volume I of the Encyclopedia of Sustainability. The reference for this note appears at the end of this short comment.

Conservation Biology is an integrated, interdisciplinary response to the world biodiversity crisis. This relatively new field draws from a wide range of scientific disciplines in order to document the extent of Earth’s biodiversity, the impact of the human project on that biodiversity, and to formulate and apply approaches to conserve and restore that biodiversity.

Religion matters to this discipline because conservation of habitat and biodiversity takes place in a social and cultural context. Religion is frequently a major component of that context. Religions have played a substantial role in formulating views of nature and defining relationships of the roles of humanity in nature thus linking religious life and practices with habitat and biodiversity. For this reason, religions can help make essential and substantial contributions to rethinking and responding to the conservation of species.

Religions also appear to be increasingly responsive to environmental issues and the religious focus on the environment may well be a developing and continuing theme of theological inquiry and religious life. The principles and practices and knowledge of conservation biology can contribute to those whose environmental perspective has, in the past, been primarily informed by religion and theology.

The converse is also true in that an understanding of religious concepts and practices and how they are applied to governance and daily life, is equally essential to the implementation of effective and lasting conservation management strategies. Recognition of this important link is obvious in the increasing number of specialists in conservation organizations whose primary mission is to explore the religious and theological links with natural systems and to help develop and implement culturally attuned conservation strategies.

Finally, the imposition of conservation strategies on cultures in the lesser developed countries is giving way to the cooperative development of approaches to use and conserve habitat and biodiversity in sustainable ways. In fact, it might be easier to develop cooperative relationships between religions and conservation science in the lesser developed areas than in western nations where substantial tensions between various aspects of science and specific expressions of religion continue to exist and often obscure the critical nature of environmental issues. But even here we may be seeing increasing collaboration.

Please cite the above note as follows:

Baugh, Tom. (2010). Conservation biology. In Willis Jenkins (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Sustainability, Vol. 1: The Spirit of Sustainability, p. 82. Great Barrington , MA : Berkshire Publishing Group.


In the morning light,
the snows on distant peaks
reflect the hope of spring to come,
and a promise is fulfilled.

In the morning light,
the tide rises against a sandy beach
and falls again with the passage of the day,
and a promise is fulfilled.

In the morning light,
a river flows between its banks
through fields and farms and crops that grow,
and a promise is fulfilled.

In the morning light,
we rise to greet a day of hope
of meadows green
of flowers in bloom
of tides that surge
in an earth restored
in a promise fulfilled.