“Conserving nature” is not going well. Nearly all indicators of biological diversity are trending in the wrong direction, from habitat loss and the impacts of invasive species to extinction rates and the degradation of ecosystem services. Most governments severely underfund the protection of nature and have failed to meet the Convention on Biological Diversity targets; globalized trade continues to exacerbate impacts of invasive species; new threats, such as climate change, are emerging and are predicted to drive massive extinctions and ecosystem changes; and new agrochemicals and agricultural practices are putting ecosystems under further stress. The 21st century has not been good for nature.

Recognizing conservation as a social process, requiring a large and engaged constituency, highlights the critical importance of supporting political action for conservation-friendly policies. It may sound antithetical to suggest that NGO’s are missing opportunities to build constituencies, of course. Working with people is what NGO’s do: they welcome membership and have professional campaigns to advertise their programs and capacities and work with landowners and communities on conservation projects. But the NGO conservation community often takes the general public’s support for nature for granted.

More to the point, building a constituency for nature is a significantly different thing than advertising for members and working on projects. In the past decades, conservation has moved from establishing better protections for more protected areas as the primary means of conservation success to prioritizing business, entrepreneurialism, and partnering with private landowners and communities.

Building a social movement for conservation may never been more attainable. The key will be changing this large latent constituency into an active one.

  1. Engaging People
  2. Building a Sense of Pride in People and Communities
  3. Appealing to Self-Interest

Read the full article about social movement for conservation by Mark W. Schwartz at Stanford Social Innovation Review.