This last weekend I organized a one night camp-out to escape the ‘city-ness’ of Xining. Driving an hour and a half south of the city brought us to a location known as the “Hitching Post”. There we set up camp, explored, hiked, and just enjoyed being outside away from the business of the city. I spent a fair bit of time reflecting on the outdoors and how spending time outside often gives one a sense of peace and rejuvenation. It is this feeling that has brought me to the profession I find myself in, working in ways to improve my surroundings and promote sustainability. Through my work with governments, organizations, and individuals I have found that there are essentially three underlying motivations for conservation.
1) Utilitarian. People all have needs that can be met in certain ways, and often we like to choose the most effective and economical way to help meet these needs. In turn, often the best choice of action ends up being one that recognizes long term sustainability and thus more utility gained for an individual. In plain terms, if it brings me more value/utility, then I will choose that course of action. While a Frontier Economy mindset (one that views resources as unlimited) has blinded many entities leading to poor environmental decision-making in the past, many have realized the consequences of such actions and are trying to regain ground in terms of strengthening ecosystems. Such a reversal in decision-making has been motivated by seeing the value in sustainable policy/actions in which more utility can be gained.
2) Legislation. When it comes down to it, sometimes people are just motivated towards certain actions to avoid negative consequences. There certainly is a place for legislation in promoting such behavior so that certain entities/businesses do not take advantage of short term gains at the expense of the larger population and environment. For example, my previous home on Vancouver Island, there was an issue of illegal dumping by those living in the countryside. Laws are in place to restrict such actions, and once communities were forced to adopt the cost of cleanup they invested in watch programs, cameras, and other strategies for minimizing occurrences by holding individuals responsible. As a result, illegal dumping is not as much of a problem as it was 10 years ago. I should also note, that some legislation is put in place to promote actions through positive reinforcement rather than just consequences. Various tax breaks and investment opportunities are but a few examples.
3) Worldview. The final category that I have become aware of is that of worldview. Often our underlying belief system guides our outward actions. For example, myself as a Christian views the world as a creation of a single deity. I therefore view the world as something that does not belong to me, but rather something that has been put in my care. I therefore take care of it just as if I borrowed something of extreme value from a friend and would not purposefully bring harm to it. I also see the negative consequences of unsustainable actions on quality of life, especially in developing nations. Therefore, motivated to ‘love my neighbor’ by using wisdom in resource management decisions. Likewise, a Buddhist will view the world as something that provides nourishment to all beings. Their belief in showing compassion to all will therefore motivate them to use resources wisely as not to directly/indirectly harm others. No matter what our worldview is, it will certainly motivate us to certain types of actions/decision, some of which will provide motivation towards conservation.
While these are three motivators that I have seen and experienced, I doubt they are exhaustive. I would very much like to hear from you in terms of additional motivators so please feel free to comment or email me using the contact link above.