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Behavioral Ecology of Conservation in Traditional Societies

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Low, Bobbi S.
Date: 1994
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/4558
Sector: Theory
Subject(s): conservation
common pool resources
Abstract: "Today, as we face increasingly complex environmental problems, of ever-enlarging scale, we are faced by a dilemma: our ideas about what we should do to solve these problems are based on conventional wisdoms about our conservation ethics, and our willingness to trust and cooperate with others. One 'wisdom' is our perception that people in pre-industrial ('traditional') societies, being more directly and immediately dependent on the ecology of the natural systems around them, were more conserving and respectful of those resources than we. Another is that, perhaps because traditional people typically lived in small groups (often among kin), they were likelier to be willing to sacrifice personal benefit for the good of the group, when conditions demanded it. "We feel we have, in important ways, 'lost touch' with ecological constraints as we have developed technological insulation against ecological scarcity and fluctuations -- and thus that we may have drifted away from ecological concern and from cooperativeness. Thus, we find ourselves thinking that if only we could recapture the reverence and cooperativeness of traditional societies, and expand it, we could solve our problems. These conventional wisdoms generate normative prescriptions: that in addition to more information about the impact of our actions on ecological balances, we need to become more reverent, to move closer to the ideal we hold of traditional peoples' patterns."

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