In the United States, a battle is raging between two factions of environmental advocates and ecologists. On one side, those who associate themselves with the tradition of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Aldo Leopold argue for the need to expand protected areas and to reduce the human presence. The other side has embraced the neo-liberal agenda and partnered with corporations such as Dow Chemical and Goldman Sachs. The ‘new conservation’ holds that the purpose of conservation is to benefit the most people possible. The Nature Conservancy, headed by a former investment banker and armed with a budget of up to one billion dollars, is the major force in this camp.
Some would say this is an old debate between intrinsic and utilitarian values for nature. Before the field of conservation biology existed, advocates for the environment could align themselves with Muir’s sacred view of nature or with Theodore Roosevelt’s view that nature should be protected as a human resource. The 1964 US Wilderness Act incorporated elements of both: wilderness was an area ‘untrammelled’ by humankind, but also a ‘resource’ for aesthetic, moral, and recreational enjoyment. Recently, the divisions have become starker, and a new idea presents a challenge to the philosophical foundations of conservation: the Anthropocene.