Let’s face it. It’s hard for most people to understand why they should care about conserving species. It’s not politically correct to say it out loud, but most people don’t care whether the world loses yet another species.
For the conservation movement to improve its chances of success, it needs to stop preaching to itself and start appealing to the average person’s self interest. Only committed conservationists care very much about saving exotic frogs; the average person wants to know what’s in it for him.
Consider the following two arguments against continuing to pollute the river flowing through the fictitious town of Birdville.
1. We need to stop polluting the river to maintain biodiversity in and around Birdville.
2. Pollution in the river is killing the species that our more exotic natural birds eat. The traditional bird-watching tourism to Birdville is way down because of the loss of birds. At this pace, we’ll lose another 400 jobs this year. We need to stop polluting the river to turn this around and save our jobs.
People need to see a clear link between conservation efforts and their self interest. No amount of consciousness raising will get the average person to care very much about animals for their own sake. I’m not opposed to such consciousness-raising efforts, but they are not enough by themselves.
For more information on this topic, see “Conservation for the People”, Scientific American, October 2007, pp. 50-57. A preview of this article is available online here.