Last week, our fair department hosted Dan Brockington to speak about “Celebrity and the Environment: Fame, Wealth and Power in Conservation.” He certainly sparked some conversations, but I think most people just ended up confused about what his point was. He dryly humiliated a bunch of conservation celebrities (ranging from Harrison Ford to Russ Mittermeier), but his talk never really came together. He refused to say whether he believed having celebrities in the conservation world was good or bad. The story that stuck out for me involved the creation of a park in east Africa, spear-headed by celebrities, including Sylvester Stallone. They touted the initiative in classic conservation terms, “saving nature,” “restoring the wilderness,” etc., etc., but Brockington effectively pointed out that a huge number of people were pushed out of the park, and they in fact had to re-locate lots of species from elsewhere that hadn’t been in the area for many years. So, yeah, conservation can be pretty virtual in that way, though how that’s different from the rest of the world we live in I’m not sure.
I think Brockington’s take-home message (unstated, so I’m just guessing) was that celebrities can only become famous if they satisfy a narrative that “Westerners” desire. So, by interpreting the effective messages in celebrity conservation, we can peel back and see the hidden, ugly truth of conservation desire in Americans. That I guess has to be true, and I’m sure there are racist/colonialist overtones to some work that some fringe conservationists do. But why pick on celebrities in conservation, in particular? Whatever you have to say about celebrities in conservation is true for celebrities pursuing any cause. Moreover, it’s true for how any cause is presented to the public, whether by celebrities or news media. (Sample headline from the anthropology world: “Climate change ‘cultural genocide’ for Aborigines.” That’s not inflammatory, is it? Or playing into our war-like nature?)
I get it: celebrities are vapid, and issues are presented to us in incendiary half-truths. Unfortunately, I don’t think that message is particularly important to anybody in our department. Anybody who spends this much time thinking about conservation should be smart enough to recognize the nuances in our field, as is true with any field that finds itself head-to-head with celebrity culture. It’s as if Brockington had gone to Human Rights Watch with a message of, “What’s with Angelina Jolie and all those babies from Africa, right? Like, how crazy is she? You guys are nuts, and your philosophy is problematic.”
Oh well, I know I sound defensive. It was a very entertaining and engaging talk, but ultimately hard to untangle. Kind of like celebrity intrusion into “the real world.”
(And, for synergy sake, Corey’s posting about celebrities today, too.)
- Conservation Biologist is one of the ten best green jobs.
- Watch what happens to Britain’s electric and water grid after East Enders (award-winning evening soap opera) ends. 1 million tea kettles go on within 5 minutes, that’s what happens. Seems a little strange (or perhaps an exaggeration) that such an important operation isn’t carried out by computers
- William Laurance weighs in on the claim that extinction in tropical rainforests isn’t going to be as bad as predicted.
- Despite the conflict, Virunga’s gorilla population appears to be doing okay.
- CI is offering free software for mapping hotspots, or something.
- Here’s a nice article on Santiago Espinosa, a grad student at UF-Gainesville and WCS Research Fellow, and his camera traps in Yasuni NP.
- Salazar’s saying he’ll review midnight regulations from the Bush administration’s Interior Department.
Huh. Yesterday afternoon, the Interior Department proposed listing 48 Haiwaiian species at once, in a move to protect the entire ecosystem. Dirk Kempthorne said it was a move toward a holistic approach to conservation. “By addressing the common threats that occur across these ecosystems, we can more effectively focus our conservation efforts on restoring the functions of these shared habitats.” Department officials went on to suggest that such an approach could be used in the coming years in other parts of the country.
I’m really trying hard to figure out at what point this plan becomes terrible for everyone but Goldman Sachs. The worst I can do is point to the fact that all the land needed to protect these species is already designated as such, so there will be no further detriment to private landholders in the area. That, more or less, sounds like a win-win. So… there you go. The Interior Department just did something totally sensible. I guess I’ll defer to other news sources to identify ths insanity here, but until then this seems like pretty good news.