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
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
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
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.