Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 394–402 | Cite as

Heroes or thieves? The ethical grounds for lingering concerns about new conservation

  • Chelsea BataviaEmail author
  • Michael Paul Nelson


After several years of intense debate surrounding so-called new conservation, there has been a general trend toward reconciliation among previously dissenting voices in the conservation community, a “more is more” mentality premised upon the belief that a greater diversity of conservation approaches will yield greater conservation benefits. However, there seems good reason to remain uneasy about the new conservation platform. We seek to clarify the reasons behind this lingering unease, which we suspect is shared by others in the conservation community, by re-examining new conservation through an ethical lens. The debates around new conservation have focused predominantly on the outcomes it promises to produce, reasoning by way of a consequentialist ethical framework. We introduce an alternative ethical framework, deontology, suggesting it provides novel insights that an exclusively consequentialist perspective fails to appreciate. A deontological ethic is concerned not with effects and outcomes, but with intentions, and whether those intentions align with moral principles and duties. From a deontological perspective, a strategy such as new conservation, which is exclusively focused on outcomes, appears highly suspect, especially when it endorses what is arguably an indefensible ethical orientation, anthropocentrism. We therefore suggest lingering concerns over new conservation are well-founded, and that, at least from a deontological perspective, the conservation community has a moral obligation to act on the express principle that non-human species possess intrinsic value, which should be protected.


New conservation Anthropocentrism Deontology Conservation ethics Immanuel Kant 



Financial support for the authors was provided through the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest research program, funded by the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research Program (DEB 1440409). C.B. received additional financial support from the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation. The opinions expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the ARCS Foundation, and neither organization was involved in the preparation of this manuscript. Along with two anonymous reviewers who provided very useful feedback on an earlier version of this manuscript, the authors would like to thank J. Vucetich for past and future discussions about conservation ethics. C.B. would also like to thank F. Ruf for forcing her to read Kant, a hardship she has only come to appreciate ten years after the fact.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Forest Ecosystems and SocietyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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