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What is conservation really?

If we trace it back, we know that the term ‘science’ was originally defined by the Royal Society of London as the practice of “Dominating Nature so as to benefit humankind”. This understanding informed how the term ‘conservation’ was then put into practice. Conservation was previously understood to, exclusively, be the protection and preservation of specific environmental hotspots.

These protected areas in South Africa were originally created to protect hunting rights. In the 1820s, Shaka Zulu proclaimed that the wild areas near Hluhluwe and Imfolozi would be declared royal hunting grounds. And in 1895 these same areas were proclaimed as the Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve, which is world famous for the role it’s played in rhino conservation.

Over time, our understanding of conservation has evolved to one that extends beyond protecting specific species or habitats. And for good reasons: Scientists agree that several of our Earth’s life support systems are out of balance and at risk of collapse. The Stockholm Centre of Resilience defines 9 planetary boundaries, and essential ecological processes, which need to be safeguarded. This broadened awareness is imperative for humans to better understand the implications of our actions in an interconnected environment.

One of the fundamental planetary boundaries is the Earth’s climate. The consequences of human-made climate change are disastrous if global warming is not kept in check. Studies such as the IPCC report are a great resource to look through to better understand the implications of climate change.

To avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change, scientists agree that humans must cut back on greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50% compared to 2010 levels by 2030. Several organizations and treaties have been developed to achieve this goal. Currently, the world’s eyes are on COP 27, the annual UN conference on climate change which previously resulted in the crucial Paris Agreement. The event is happening from November 6-18 in Egypt.

The defining features of conservation have evolved – which means, so should we. This is no longer an activity isolated to conservation sites or “saving the whale” initiatives but must be seen as a fundamental survival strategy for the human race. We all must play our part in conserving the environment we need to survive. We think it’s time to take this responsibility into our own hands.