Liberally Green

Conservation is traditionally associated with left-wing politics.

The distinction between left and right dates back to the days of the French revolution when those supporting radical changes in society where seated on the left side of parliament. Left-wing politics tend to strive for a more egalitarian society, achieved through cooperative, mutually respectful collaboration.Right-wing politics may see social and economic hierarchies as natural or normal.

Left-wing economic politics are often characterized by extensive government intervention. On the right side of politics, or at least the center-right, capitalism, private property rights, and the market economy with limited government regulation are more valued.

Looking at conservation in Indonesia, I wonder where, in the political spectrum, conservation fits in best. Here conservation is seen as a government duty, and for decades the standard approaches to conservation were built on collaboration between NGOs and governments. Unfortunately there has been limited success.

Many protected area in Indonesia are in a very bad shape. The majority of nature and wildlife reserves have no on the ground management. And outside protected areas, the loss of forest, freshwater and marine resources is even more rapid.

Indonesia’s private sector, both its big and small-holder industries, are a major driving factor behind these losses. But they are also the biggest hope for solutions.

Many companies in the timber, fibre, oil palm, and mining industries create conservation set asides which they themselves aim to manage. If this trend continues, we may soon find that the private sector plays a much bigger role in conservation than the government. This reflects the situation in North America and Europe where many conservation lands are privately owned and managed.

I wonder whether this is leading to a political shift in conservation. Is the increased integration of conservation in market economies, green thinking in companies, and the commodization of environmental services (think carbon ,water etc.) shifting conservation to the right? Is this green-tinged liberalism the future of conservation? If it is, would it be a good thing?

I wouldn’t mind less government meddling in conservation. Let the government govern, but leave the conservation implementation to others. Privatize national parks that the government has not been able to manage. But hold the new managers accountable. Make conservation pay for itself.

In rapidly developing economies like Indonesia, with a large natural resources sector, the private sector, not the government is the main factor determining the future of conservation.

Author: Erik Meijaard

Erik Meijaard is one of Mongabay’s bloggers who joined in September 2010. Erik is a passionate conservation scientist with a critical eye for the both sense and nonsense in conservation management and science. Based on nearly 20 years of in-country experience in Indonesia he has written extensively in both the scientific literature and in popular media on what he thinks is right and wrong about the way we go about conservation. This included a popular blog which he wrote for The Nature Conservancy. His experience in developing countries has shaped his thinking about the need to reconcile conservation with the development aspirations that many developing countries have. Ignoring those aspirations is not only arrogant or even verging on the neo-colonial, but it will ultimately work against us in achieving conservation objectives. From his home office in Jakarta, Erik runs the forest branch of PNC International, a small independent conservation consultancy. Erik has an academic background in tropical ecology and a PhD in biological anthropology. He has worked for several international NGOs and research organizations, including WWF-Netherlands and the Center for International Forestry Research. From 2004 to 2009, he worked for the Nature Conservancy Indonesia's forest program as its senior scientist and program manager. At the same time he was also closely involved with developing and implementing a USAID-funded orangutan conservation programs, first as chief of party, later as Kalimantan coordinator and conservation strategy planner. Erik has a wealth of experience working with the private sector, including timber and mining concessions, as well as plantations. His editorial experience with two newsletters, frequent publications in public and scientific fora, and media experience indicate Erik's strength as an effective communicator on forest conservation and management issues. Erik’s family accuse him of being obsessed with his laptop – they are right. Ultimately Erik will get out of this though, cut himself off from the internet, lean back in his rocking chair, and sip cold beer, preferably while looking over a nice sea or landscape. But that point hasn’t come yet, so keep an eye out for his blogs, which vary from the plain rambling to the highly insightful, but always aim to be constructive in the conservation debate – and hopefully bring a smile to people’s faces. After all, unless we can enjoy this world we live in, why bother conserving it? [Editor's note: Erik was interviewed at Indonesian people-not international donors or orangutan conservationists-will determine the ultimate fate of Indonesia's forests in 2010]

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