Introducing the Field of Conservation Psychology
Human care for nature
The roots of conservation psychology
The utility of conservation psychology
The practice of conservation psychology
The organization of the book
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Humanity faces environmental challenges on every level from local to global. Human population growth and human activities are negatively affecting the ecological processes that support life as we know it, and the effect of these changes on human well-being will be profound. Recent quantitative assessments of the human impact on nature give a sobering picture; the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment found that that about 60% of the earth's ecosystem services are being used unsustainably. Using ecological footprint methodology, the Global Footprint Network (Global Footprint Network, 2013; has calculated that humanity's load on the biosphere is about 150% of earth's capacity, up from 70% in 1961. These trends result from individual behavior patterns as well as from the societal infrastructure constituted by our institutions, governance systems, and ways of interacting. At stake are two inextricably linked sets of values: concern for the present and future quality of human lives and care about the vitality of the biosphere and its other inhabitants.
We were drawn to write about conservation psychology not only by these uncompromising facts and future possibilities but also by a perception that our primary discipline, psychology, could do more to address these realities. This is clear across areas of conservation and natural resource research. We want to urgently ask: Are psychologists on those research teams? Are they prepared to intelligently deploy their skills in these new contexts (do they know their ecology and economics)? Are other social or natural science specialists ready to seek those skills (do they understand human motivations and biases)? A growing body of psychological research is relevant to conservation. Collectively, however, psychology is at best midway into effectively putting its resources at the disposal of individuals and groups working for a more healthy relation to our planet. We have yet to see a sea-change in the work of psychologists toward addressing sustainability. This book is for the reader with some interest in psychology, whether as a psychologist or just that of a normally curious and reflective human being, and concern about contemporary threats to environmental and social well-being posed by the way humans relate to ecological systems. Our goal is to describe the many ways in which psychology is relevant to environmental sustainability and vice-versa.
We define conservation psychology as the use of psychological techniques and research to understand and promote a healthy relationship between humans and the natural environment. Let us unpack the book's title. "Conservation" should not be identified with turn-of-the-twentieth century resource conservation, with its strictly utilitarian focus. Instead, we associate "Conservation" with its rebirth in the 1980s, in which it was applied to a whole new set of ideas, including landscape and continent-wide ecosystem planning, and especially to Conservation Biology. That field was born of a sense of crisis and some within it openly avowed value-laden positions (Soulé, 1985). The same goes for conservation psychology: the goal is not only to understand the interdependence between humans and nature but also to promote a healthy and sustainable relationship.
What's in a name?
There is no consensus on what to call the k