Conservation is the judicious utilization of available natural resources of plants, animals, atmosphere, soil, water and minerals and the skills and behaviours that are valued in home and community . In other words conservation is not just concerned with the protection and survival of animals and plants but also with the protection of our non-living environment on which plants and animals, including human beings, depend. A conservation- orientated nation will also use it mineral resources judiciously, especially those that are resources of energy.
The realization that the earth's resources (living and non- living) are both finite, and essential for the survival of human, and other life, contributed to a broadening of the concept of conservation to include, as well as wild animals, all the interacting components of an ecosystem that are necessary for its healthy functioning. More recently, scientific and technological advances, such as the use of satellites, have allowed us to assess global environmental problems such as depletion of ozone.
Today, conservation has come to be described as the wise use of the earth's resources such that they will be able to support, or sustain, all life for generations ahead. Conservation is practiced in different ways in different situations. For example:
In a national park, conservation might involve protection of ecosystems including endangered species, such as the black rhino;
In agriculture, conservation might involve permaculture techniques, or river catchment management;
In industry, pollution control measures or environmental auditing is in keeping with the `wise use of resources'.
In our personal lives, recycling waste in our home is a conservation action;
The above examples show that conservation involves the use of resources, in many different situations, all of which include protection and maintenance (e.g. national parks and game reserves), and rehabilitation and restoration of ecosystems and their populations (e.g. planting of trees and shrubs along a degraded riverbank).
Conservation is also applied to our cultural heritage, thus including things of historical importance, such as old buildings, battle fields and oral traditions. This is in keeping with the view that the solution to our environmental problems lies not only in technological or scientific advance, but in an awareness of the non-material social and spiritual dimension of the human-Earth.
In addition to the `intrinsic value' argument for conservation, people are dependant on natural resources for a variety of reasons:
Ecology is the study of the interactions and relationships between all living (plants and animal) and non-living (e.g. soil, water, air) things on earth. From ecology we have learnt of the interdependence of all living and non-living things."
All things are connected, like the blood that unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself." - Chief Seattle.
Ecological reasons for conservation demonstrate the need to care for the life support systems of the planet. The greenhouse effect illustrates the breakdown of a life support system, the maintenance of the carbon dioxide balance in the atmosphere. Increased burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, releases greater amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Deforestation results in less carbon dioxide being taken up by plants . The overall result is an increase in the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere, and this contributes to a warming of the earth's atmosphere.
Most sections of our economy are dependant on natural resources. For example, industries such as forestry, fishing, agriculture and tourism, are all dependent on the healthy functioning of the natural environment. If the resource base on which these industries depend is damaged, the industries themselves suffer. For example, overfishing of pilchards off the west coast of South Africa and Namibia resulted in the 1970s crash in fish populations, and harvests dropped dramatically.
Plants and animals contain a largely untapped store of genetic diversity which may be of great value in plant and animal breeding programs. In addition, plants are chemical factories able to make vast numbers of complex and unusual substances, many of which are potential medicines for humankind. Examples of existing drugs based on plants include:
quinine, an anti-malarial medicine, made from a substance in the yellow cinchona plant;
aspirin, a common drug, has been developed from a blueprint supplied by the bark of the willow tree;
the rosy periwinkle produces substances which are effective in the treatment of leukaemia.
We cannot predict which resources may be of use in the future - thus it is important that we leave our options open and maintain the earth's biodiversity.
"Few problems are less recognized, but more important than the accelerating disappearance of the earth's biological resources. In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it is perched" - Professor Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University -
"The good of going into the mountains is that life is reconsidered." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Cultures of stability