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Title: Conservation Ecology
Author(s): Susan Clayton and Gene Myers
Date of Publication: 2009 Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Pages:vii + 253 ISBN: 978 1 4051 7678 1
Price: Format:Paperback
Target Readership Educator







Content: 1 – Introducing the field of conservation psychology; 2 - Attitudes, values and perceptions; 3 - Moral psychology and the environment; 4 - Environment and identity; 5 - Theoretical foundation for the human response to nature; 6- Domestic nature: cohabiting with animals and plants; 7 - Managed nature: zoos, aquariums and public parks; 8 - Wild nature: encounters with wilderness; 9 - Promoting sustainable behaviour; 10 - Community psychology and international biodiversity conservation; 11 - Environmental education; 12 - The psychology of hope.

Review: If this seems like an unusual field of inquiry you might well be right. According to the authors' introduction this is one of the first books in its field - in fact it's trying to create a field! Such attempts are rare but one must still ask if this is a valid research area and what can one hope to gain from it.

Over the years there have been attempts to see conservation in terms of behavioural response. About 25-30 years ago there was an article (sadly lost now) which reported on conservation versus "psycholovability" whereby the "cute and cuddly" won over the "large and scaly". Pandas won over scorpions despite the fact that the latter were the more endangered. Maybe this was taking matters too far but it was an interesting perspective. Although we had some idea of the need to consider the psychology of conservation there was little more written upon the subject for general consumption. Later, papers started to appear which examined people's responses to environmental issues but again this seemed to be sporadic and not well related to theory. What we have here is an attempt to develop some framework to discuss the matter further. There is good reason to try such an undertaking. Global warming and similar issues are complex issues that require a great deal of study. It has been argued tat they are too large for non-specialists to access and yet it is just those non-specialists that we are trying to reach. Anything that bridges the gap should be welcomed.

The opening chapter does more than just introduce the book - it serves to delineate this new field. As such we get some idea of the human-induced problems we need to face and the range of psychologies that we need to address. This is an interesting turn because it deals with not just emotion and reaction but also with cognitive development - something at the heart of education. It suggests a field more complex than the title hinted at. The remainder of the book is divided into three sections. The first section looks at some of the theory. We start with values and attitudes and how they are shaped. This moves on to risk perception and why lay persons and professionals might not agree. In turn, this moves to bias and information filtering. In some ways this is the most complex chapter because it deals with a very wide range of variables. Chapter three has a focus on moral and ethical concepts and how these can be used in conservation decisions. People are not just moral/ethical in a vacuum. They associate with nature on some level which is where the reader is taken next. Both chapters four and five examine the personal relationship with nature. Chapter four does so in terms of defining an identity whilst chapter five explores a range of theoretical positions including the idea of biophilia - Wilson's argument that interest in nature is genetically wired into us. Section two looks at our interactions with wildlife. Chapter six, dealing with pets and indoor plants, might seem at first quite removed from nature but they are both very common and to link with the wider world. There is also the not-inconsiderable health benefits of plants and animals. Slightly further from the home burt still contained is the zoo of chapter seven. Here nature can be displayed and understood. Gone are the usual conservation values of the zoo or park as breeding centres for endangered species to be replaced with a nature foreign to the urban setting but real enough to engender interest and support for conservation. As if to take a set further away, the final chapter explores the psychological value of the wilderness and the value it can have. Section three looks at promoting nature conservation. Ideally, these psychological responses to nature should turn into support (financial and otherwise) for conservation. Chapter 9 starts by discussing how we can develop a psychology supportive of sustainable development - crucial if we are to take conservation long-term. Chapter 10 looks at the wider community and how we respond in larger groups as well as how we respond to environmental shortages. Chapter 11 focusses on environmental education. It outlines some theory but focusses mainly on the schemes that have been used to promote environmental values and action. A very brief final chapter suggests there is reason for hope. A small glossary and an extensive list of references completes the text.

This is a very interesting book. It has a message to give but the message is often too brief or lost. Chapters start with fascinating ideas but then change tack. In fairness this is the first attempt and any such effort will have gaps. What is more important is that it attempts to reconcile the fields of conservation and psychology for the benefit of both. It puts forward many educational theories of value to beginner teachers in all institutions. Despite the gaps this is one of the most interesting and novel texts to be produced so far this year. It deserves to be a key reader in all environmental education courses and would be of value in all university education departments. Field centres and conservation groups can also find value. It will be interesting to follow this field to see how it develops in the coming years. We need to react to environmental issues and if it's our underlying psychology that's affecting us then there's enough hope here to attempt a change.





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