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Academic & Professional Books  Conservation & Biodiversity  Conservation & Biodiversity: General

Defending Biodiversity Environmental Science and Ethics

By: Jonathan A Newman(Author), Gary Varner(Author), Stefan Linquist(Author)
441 pages, 27 b/w illustrations, 14 tables
An interesting but challenging read examining the arguments used to defend the idea that wildlife and biodiversity ought to be conserved.
Defending Biodiversity
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  • Defending Biodiversity ISBN: 9780521146203 Paperback Oct 2017 Usually dispatched within 5 days
  • Defending Biodiversity ISBN: 9780521768863 Hardback Nov 2017 In stock
Selected version: £39.99
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About this book

Imagine that you are an environmentalist who passionately believes that it is wrong to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. How do you convince someone that a decision to drill is wrong? Debates about the environment and how humans ought to treat it have gone on for decades, yet arguments in favor of preserving biodiversity often lack empirical substance or are philosophically naïve, making them far less effective than they could be. Defending Biodiversity critically examines arguments that are commonly offered in support of biodiversity conservation. The authors adopt a skeptical viewpoint to thoroughly test the strength of each argument and, by demonstrating how scientific evidence can be integrated with philosophical reasoning, they help environmentalists to better engage with public debate and judiciously inform public policy. This interdisciplinary and accessible book is essential reading for anyone who engages in discussions about the value of biodiversity conservation.



Part I. Instrumental Value Defenses:
1. Biodiversity and the environmentalist agenda
2. Ecosystem functioning and stability
3. The precautionary principle
4. Agricultural and pharmaceutical benefits
5. Nature-based tourism and 'transformative value'
6. How far do instrumental-value defenses get us?

Part II. Intrinsic Value Defenses:
7. Methodology in philosophical ethics
8. Extensionism in environmental ethics
9. Ecoholism: do ecological wholes have intrinsic value?
10. Ecoholism 2: Callicott on the Leopold land ethic
11. Should biodiversity be conserved for its aesthetic value?
12. How far do intrinsic value defenses go?
13. Conclusions and personal reflections


Customer Reviews (1)

  • An interesting but challenging read
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 16 Mar 2018 Written for Paperback

    Most people would agree that it is important to conserve wildlife and the environment it lives in. But can you clearly articulate why? Defending Biodiversity brings together an ecologist and two philosophers to critically examine the arguments environmentalists often put forward in favour of biodiversity conservation. Because, as they point out, a lot of these arguments are not very strong, and sometimes conflict with each other, or with other parts of what environmentalists wish to achieve. Now, before you get all worked up, all three authors strongly believe that biodiversity ought to be conserved, and this book is not an attack on environmentalists or biodiversity conservation. They are careful to avoid being unnecessarily controversial with this book. Rather, they want to help environmentalists improve and strengthen their arguments and to become more persuasive in debates.

    After some definitions and an overview of the environmentalist agenda (i.e. those things that environmentalists want to achieve), the book is split into two parts. The first half analyses arguments of instrumental value (i.e. the usefulness of biodiversity to humans), while the second half analyses arguments of intrinsic value (i.e. the value of biodiversity in and of itself, without considering its usefulness).

    I found the first half of the book easily accessible and understandable, as this takes a look at the empirical data in favour of conservation. Four arguments are examined: ecosystem functioning and stability (e.g. soil fertility or air quality that is provided by functional, highly biodiverse ecosystem), the precautionary principle (when in doubt, let's err on the side of caution and conserve a species), agricultural and pharmaceutical benefits, and nature-based tourism.

    There has especially been a lot of empirical work done on ecosystem functioning, but closely examing the data shows that most work is done on artificially created grassland communities that are very species poor. It is very hard to extrapolate from these findings, and they have little relevance to support the idea of more biodiversity supporting better ecosystem functioning (this is just one of a raft of problems the authors highlight).

    The precautionary principle is often touted in favour of proper ecological risk assessments or quantitative cost-benefit analyses. Furthermore, the precautionary principle is usually invoked to stop something from happening (usually human action that could lead to biodiversity loss), without ever asking what the benefit is from said action, and the cost if said action is prevented.

    Agricultural and pharmaceutical benefits only apply to a very small number of plants that are already well protected, leaving much biodiversity out of the picture. And as far as nature-based tourism is concerned, the link between biodiversity and the enjoyment people get out of it is weak.

    I only highlight some of the findings that struck me as particularly relevant or surprising, but the authors analyse each topic in much more detail. Furthermore, in many cases, a corollary of each argument is that if you apply it consistently, it would suggest actions that many environmentalists would oppose. For example, the idea that biodiversity supports ecosystem functioning could be an argument for species introductions, or causing local extinction of a species if it benefits the ecosystem. Actions most environmentaliss would balk at.

    The second half examines arguments that biodiversity has intrinsic value. I'll be honest with you, this is where the book largely lost me. Now, I have no formal background in philosophy. The introductory chapter to this section is aimed at people like me who are not familiar with how ethical theories and principles are defended. The different chapters look at sentientism (the idea that the lives of all sentient animals, including humans, have intrinsic value), biocentric individualism (the lives of all organisms, sentient or not, have value), ecoholism (ecological wholes such as species and ecosystems have intrinsic value), Aldo Leopold's land ethic (his book A Sand County Almanac has had a large influence on modern environmentalism), and the importance of aesthetic value. Here, too, the authors provide analyses of what some of the weak points are of each of these arguments, but I feel ill-equipped to summarise them.

    The overall conclusion is that none of the arguments that environmentalists normally put forward address all the points on their agenda. Combining arguments doesn't necessarily make things better as some of them are in conflict with each other. This does leave me wondering how we can improve our arguments in favour of biodiversity conservation. The book doesn't provide clear answers. Largely, I think, because these answers are not yet apparent. Where the instrumental values are concerned, reading between the lines, Defending Biodiversity highlights what sort of research we would need to do, and what sort of data we would need to gather in order to answer such questions. For the intrinsic values debate the authors highlight that theories have not been fully developed yet, and that this is still an area of ongoing effort.

    The academic discipline of environmental ethics, which examines the ethical arguments of how humans ought to treat the natural environment, has been around for a few decades. This book seems to me to be the first to try and build a bridge to the practical discipline of biodiversity conservation practised by environmentalists. My impression is that this book would be an excellent textbook for a course on environmental ethics, where you read each of these chapters and discuss them in a group setting, led by an environmental philosopher. I could see how, in such a setting, a biologist like myself with little formal training in philosophy could get more out of it. As it stands, reading it is interesting, but the book feels like an opening salvo. It highlights many problems, which is valuable, but it provides few answers or directions to better answers. I understand that this book wants to engender reflection, but I'm a bit worried that practising biologists and conservationists reading the book will finish it feeling lost for answers and a way forward.
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Jonathan A. Newman is Dean of the College of Biological Science at the University of Guelph, Ontario, where he was also the founding Director of the School of Environmental Sciences, and the Chair of the Department of Environmental Biology. He has held previous faculty positions at the University of Oxford and at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He has been associated editor for the Journal of Ecology and for the Journal of Animal Ecology, and a member of the editorial boards of the journals Global Change Biology and Behavioral Ecology. He is the lead author for the 2011 book Climate Change Biology and has published more than 100 scientific journal articles on plant-animal-fungal interactions, invasive species, climate change, and the determinants and impacts of biodiversity. He is a member of the Ecological Society of America, the Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution, and the British Ecological Society. He is a Fellow of the British Royal Society of Biology, and a monthly donor to Greenpeace Canada. He holds B.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the State University of New York, Albany, and a postgraduate diploma in learning and teaching in higher education from the University of Oxford.

Gary Varner is a Professor and former head of Philosophy at Texas A & M University. Varner wrote one of the first dissertations on environmental ethics. His publications have covered topics in hunting, animal agriculture and human nutrition, medical research, cloning, and pet ownership, as well as philosophical issues associated with professional ethics and environmental law. He is the author of In Nature's Interests? Interests, Animal Rights, and Environmental Ethics (1998), and Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition: Situating Animals in Hare's Two Level Utilitarianism (2012). He is a lifetime member of the American Philosophical Association, and a charter member of the International Society for Environmental Ethics. He holds a B.A. degree from Arizona State University, an M.S. from the University of Georgia, and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Stefan Linquist is a professor of philosophy and adjunct professor of biology at the University of Guelph, Ontario. He is a philosopher of biology with research interests in ecology, genomics, evolution, and psychology. His publications have covered topics in genome-level ecology, the nature of ecological laws/contingency, function concepts in genomics, and cultural evolution. He holds B.A. (Simon Fraser University) and Ph.D. (Duke University) degrees in philosophy, and an MS.c. (State University of New York, Binghampton) degree in evolutionary biology. He is a founding director of the Ucluelet Aquarium Society – a public education facility focusing on marine biodiversity in British Columbia. In 2016 he was awarded the Guelph Faculty Association's Distinguished Professor Award for Excellence in Teaching.

By: Jonathan A Newman(Author), Gary Varner(Author), Stefan Linquist(Author)
441 pages, 27 b/w illustrations, 14 tables
An interesting but challenging read examining the arguments used to defend the idea that wildlife and biodiversity ought to be conserved.
Media reviews

"[...] Reading this book is a transformative exercise that will take you on a journey and challenge how you think and view the environmental agenda. The book goes beyond the usual discussions of why we need biodiversity, and will be of interest to anyone wanting to grapple the big issues of today."
– Sarah L. Taylor, The Niche, September 2019

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