John Livingston - The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation (V)

Funny how you can go two decades in a field thinking you’ve read most of the leading thinkers/ writers and heard of the rest, then someone mentions a new name in conversation … that’s where Livingston came from. It’s a little eerie to think that I’d never heard of him, when there are very obvious parallels between his thinking and my (24x7) day job. But truly, I’d never heard of him before. 

He was the first producer of The Nature of Things. He was the voice of Hinterland Who’s Who. He was born and raised in Toronto. He taught at York University. He won the Governor General’s Award for non-fiction. How is it possible that I’d never heard of him? (Here’s a great obituary, by the way.

The Fallacy deconstructs the usual arguments in favour or wildlife conservation: use, self-interest, future generations, religion. It explains why none of them is up to the task of actually ensuring wildlife preservation. And then it argues that an individual's emotional, irrational physical connection to nature is the most powerful reason for preserving wildlife of all. 

It’s a powerful book that articulates a perspective rarely heard in conservation and environmental work. If there’s a weakness, it’s that Livingston never attempts to put his reason/ argument into a policy context. Why would a policymaker listen to the argument, however persuasive? I read the introduction and the interview with him at the beginning of the Reader and it offers more insight: Livingston believed that our (western) culture was broken. That wildlife conservation was likely impossible in the modern cultural climate. He accepted the possibility that no argument would actually work, that wildlife would not/ could not be preserved. Hence, he never promised that his “best” argument would actually win the day. Only that it was the most honest.