What is Conservationism?
Conservationism is an environmental, historical, and political movement aiming to conserve and protect natural resources, ecology, endangered species, national monuments, and landmarks. Conservationists of different specialties advocate for various causes, including the proper use of land and protecting endangered species and historic structures.
Conservation efforts are distinct from preservationist missions. While preservationists aim to protect the natural world from human impact, conservationists are more concerned with the sustainable and mindful treatment of the land and its resources. For example, a preservationist might try to prevent ranchers from using a tract of land. In contrast, a conservationist promotes practices to keep the land safe and healthy for future generations.
A Brief History of Conservationism
Here is a brief overview of the history of conservationism:
- Foundations of conservationism: As early as 1662, English writer and courtier John Evelyn wrote extensively about the dangers of deforestation in England. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, consciousness grew throughout Europe of the need for proper land management.
- Nineteenth-century changes: Conservationism rose in popularity during the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century. As large-scale industrial production accelerated, people became acutely aware of the impact mining and logging had on the world’s nonrenewable natural resources. Writers like Henry David Thoreau drew attention to the importance of a close connection to nature.
- The Progressive Era: By the turn of the twentieth century, the United States Federal Government began to prioritize forest conservation and the protection of public lands. During his administration, President Theodore Roosevelt devoted governmental resources to conservationist causes like wildlife refuges, which protected wild game species from overhunting. In 1892, John Muir, preservationist and explorer of Western North America, founded the Sierra Club to preserve and protect natural wilderness areas across the United States.
- The National Park Service: In 1916, US Congress passed a law to establish the National Park Service, which oversees the conservation of all of the US’s national monuments and parks. Today, the US has sixty-three national parks (including Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite National Park), with California having the most (at nine) and Alaska coming in second (with eight).
- The modern movement: Scientific advancement and the growing awareness of climate change define the modern conservation movement. Many historians consider the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as the unofficial beginning of the contemporary movement, since the book raised awareness of pollutants’ power to destroy ecological systems. By the end of the decade, Congress signed the Clean Air Act into law and established the Environmental Protection Agency to protect public health and the natural environment.
3 Types of Conservation
Conservation is a wide-ranging discipline encompassing environmentalism, anthropology, climate science, and more. Here are its main spheres of influence:
1. Cultural conservation: Cultural conservation strives to preserve cultural artifacts and touchstones as well as language and traditions. Since so many practices and institutions would die without intervention to protect them, cultural conservation seeks to stem the degradation of people and their heritage. The Library of Congress is one of the US’s primary federal cultural conservation institutions.
2. Ecological conservation: As the most widely recognized form of conservation, ecological conservationism is the domain of environmentalists and conservation biologists. This environmental movement raises awareness about climate change and the dangers human action poses to today’s natural world.
3. Restoration and resource preservation: Conservation also seeks to find ways to continue human activity without depleting the natural resources depended upon to survive and thrive. As a result, conservationists look for means to restore depleted resources and identify alternatives.