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Environmentalism- what are our motivations?

Posted by on May 3, 2013

Common Blue  (Polyommatus icarus)Lauren is a recent graduate in microbiology interning at the Society of Biology until June 2013. She is interested in a career in science communication and writes for her own blog, Science Says as well as for the Student Hubs blog.

When probed on my motivations for trying to live sustainably, my standard reply is that we must commit to reducing the effects of climate change to minimise the damage to human populations. This answer usually sits well with people. Everyone cares about humanity; it’s hard not to. But what about the less common answer, that it is also important to care for the environment simply for nature’s sake?

In September 2012, Rebecca posed the question as to whether we should try to save the panda. This was an interesting debate and raised many questions on whether we should be putting our valuable time, money and resources into saving a species that has no direct impact on our lives. But in moments of wondering whether humans will ever be able to fix the climate, I sometimes wish we would all just go away and let the planet get on with it. It is not a feeling I can explain, yet I am sure that many other environmentalists have felt it too. This is not to suggest that conservationists don’t care for the wellbeing of humankind, but that it is a complex issue in which people can feel torn.

Take vegetarianism for example. For as long as I can remember I have felt dubious about the ethics of eating meat. This was before I knew anything about the animal welfare issues associated with intensive farming or meat having a far higher carbon footprint than vegetables. Some people simply do not like the idea of eating an animal unless it is absolutely necessary. But it was only once I learned more about the environmental impacts of meat production that I felt I could justify being vegetarian to people.

What is this feeling of wanting to preserve nature simply for its own sake, and which side of the spectrum are you on? Do you care for the planet simply to preserve the natural environment, are you somewhere in the middle, or do you care only for present and future generations? And where does this leave us in terms of conservation?

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