Martin Harper wrote an interesting blog last week about S-type conservationists and D-type conservationists. Which are you?
The gist (you should read the original to check the details – and read some interesting comments) is that there are conservationists (S for supply) who act for nature in its own right through direct nature conservation action (like nature reserves perhaps) and those (D for demand) who take a more indirect and human-based approach (like altering economic policy perhaps). It’s an interesting proposition but not quite right in my view.
It’s not quite right because it mixes motivation with approach. It is perfectly possible to believe that the conservation of nature is a moral imperative which need not benefit our own species (S-type) and yet believe that the best way to achieve nature conservation, practically, is through influencing the economic drivers of biodiversity loss (D-type).
One of the strengths of the RSPB is that, whatever its motivation, it has for a long time been a mixture of S-type and D-type actions – a mixture which is almost unique amongst nature conservation organisations. And it is a mixture because from nature’s point of view, it needs both approaches and you have to shift resources between them whenever you can see an advantage.
I remember the arguments which used to exist in the RSPB many years ago between S-type and D-type nature conservationists. A bunch of S-types would argue that more and more resources should be put into buying land because land acquisition was a ‘certain’ route to conserving nature whereas a bunch of D-types would argue that nature reserves were very expensive, covered a tiny area and if we put the same resources into employing lobbyists then we could solve nature’s problems through advocacy that delivered sustainable agriculture, forestry and fishery policies. To which the S-types would retort that success was not assured through policy and any gains could be lost through somebody else’s future lobbying. The D-types would reply…no, let’s not replay that again.
A mixed strategy is probably needed because different threatened species need different things and, very importantly, you can make better progress in different directions at different times. At a time when government takes no notice of NGOs then you might, if you can, better direct your efforts into those practical actions where you can just get on with it and do some practical good. When government is open to working with NGOs then you might make significant gains from developing a close and influential relationship with government. You would have to decide where the balance of power lies at any particular time. And you tell me where we are these days.
It’s a useful thought experiment to consider S-types and D-types but it is to do with choosing the right actions rather than why you want to save nature. Nature needs both approaches and it needs organisations who are excellent at being Ss, Ds or S&Ds.