Ignoring Nature No More The Case for Compassionate Conservation
edited by Marc Bekoff
University of Chicago Press, 2013
Cloth: 978-0-226-92533-2 | Paper: 978-0-226-92535-6 | Electronic: 978-0-226-92536-3


For far too long humans have been ignoring nature. As the most dominant, overproducing, overconsuming, big-brained, big-footed, arrogant, and invasive species ever known, we are wrecking the planet at an unprecedented rate. And while science is important to our understanding of the impact we have on our environment, it alone does not hold the answers to the current crisis, nor does it get people to act. In Ignoring Nature No More, Marc Bekoff and a host of renowned contributors argue that we need a new mind-set about nature, one that centers on empathy, compassion, and being proactive.
This collection of diverse essays is the first book devoted to compassionate conservation, a growing global movement that translates discussions and concerns about the well-being of individuals, species, populations, and ecosystems into action. Written by leading scholars in a host of disciplines, including biology, psychology, sociology, social work, economics, political science, and philosophy, as well as by locals doing fieldwork in their own countries, the essays combine the most creative aspects of the current science of animal conservation with analyses of important psychological and sociocultural issues that encourage or vex stewardship. The contributors tackle topics including the costs and benefits of conservation, behavioral biology, media coverage of animal welfare, conservation psychology, and scales of conservation from the local to the global. Taken together, the essays make a strong case for why we must replace our habits of domination and exploitation with compassionate conservation if we are to make the world a better place for nonhuman and human animals alike.


Marc Bekoff is professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado Boulder. His numerous books include The Emotional Lives of Animals, The Animal Manifesto, and Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, the last also published by the University of Chicago Press.


“For years a small coterie of environmentalists, animal rights activists, ethicists, conservation biologists, philosophers, park management officials, and legislators have been grappling with the relationships between individuals and species; populations and habitats; bio-invasives and native and endemic species. What is the right thing to do with regard to listing threatened and endangered species? When is ecological legislation overreaching or, conversely, inadequate? At what point should humanity step in to resurrect past ecosystems, or prepare for climate-change-related future biomes? These and many other topics meant to help heal divisions between conservation biology and advocates of animal rights and animal welfare are forthrightly grappled with in Marc Bekoff’s important new, bold, eclectic, and forward-looking anthology, which scans the planet for flash points where animal protection and conservation biology are in direct correlation, conflict, ethically ambiguous point-counterpoint, or simply off the radar of most local, regional, and international discussion. This thoughtful book is a must-read for every student of zoology, ecology, environmental ethics, and conservation biology.”
— Michael Charles Tobias, coauthor of God’s Country

“It may not be easy to be compassionate in this speedy, greed-ridden world, but maybe a person can be a bit kinder. Marc Bekoff and his fellow contributors make the case that an attitude of intelligent caring is both possible and essential if the world is to be saved.”
— Michael Soulé, University of California, Santa Cruz

“Marc Bekoff has gathered here a remarkable field of thinkers to address humanity’s deepening estrangement from nature. Through the annals of history and science and literature, one message emerges clear: Our modern penchant for ignoring nature is not some harmless hiccup in an otherwise glorious human saga; it is a deadly sickness inflicting a world of impoverishment and misery for us and our fellow creatures. But in the case for compassion—for opening our hearts to the joys and sufferings of the world beyond our noses—we find a cure for our gravest threats, and at last, a reason for hope.”

— Will Stolzenburg, author of Where the Wild Things Were and Rat Island

“I have mentored hundreds of idealistic young students over the years who have wanted to ‘save nature.’ They are shocked to discover that often what ‘saving’ means in practice is a single-minded devotion to killing and uprooting the unwanted, misplaced, ‘alien,’ or ‘exotic.’ Ignoring Nature No More is the sort of mash-up that has the potential to lead us away from this paradigm, towards treasuring life in all of its crazy, contradictory complexity.”

— Dale Jamieson, New York University

“A selection of provocative but mostly accessible essays by scientists trying to answer such difficult questions as: When it comes to saving species, should we favor ‘charismatic’ animals like wolves over, say, ants?”
— Boulder Daily Camera

“An amazing collection.”
— Humane Advisor

“Rich in insight and detail.”
— Alexandra Semyonova, Animal People

“A good choice for supplementary reading in animal welfare courses. . . . Recommended.”
— M. LaBar, Southern Wesleyan University, Choice

“[W]ith this collection of thoughtful articles, as well as its inclusion of contact information for the authors, the book itself takes concrete steps toward bringing largely disconnected groups together to work on the complex problems of conservation.”
— Ian Werkheiser, Michigan State University, Biological Conservation

Ignoring Nature No More builds momentum for fur­ther work to refine the question: As Bekoff phrased it, ‘How can differ­ences between people concerned with individual animal welfare and those considered with species be resolved?’”
— BioScience


- John A. Vucetich, Michael P. Nelson
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0001
[conservation ethics, ecosystem health, population viability, virtue]
This chapter explores how to approach the three big questions of conservation and the consequences of failing to take them seriously. These questions are: (1) What is population viability and ecosystem health? (2) How does conservation relate to and sometimes conflict with other legitimate values in life, such as social justice, human liberty, and concern for the welfare of individuals and nonhuman animals? How should we resolve such conflicts? (3) Do populations and ecosystems deserve direct moral consideration? It demonstrates that conservation's meaning, purpose, and relationship to the rest of society are inadequately understood. It discusses the ethics of control and consequence; the ethics of virtue; and the purpose of conservation science and education. (pages 9 - 26)
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- Paul Waldau
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0002
[conservation movement, animal protection, social movements]
This chapter examines the relationship between the animal protection and conservation movements. It suggests that these movements are natural allies despite their purported differences, and that members of these movements must work together to achieve their goals. The relationship of the animal movement to the conservation movement is framed in terms of three questions. First, why is the animal movement important to the worldwide conservation movement? Second, why has the animal protection movement proceeded at a different pace and in different ways than has the conservation movement? Third, what are the most relevant features of the animal protection movement to the conservation movement? (pages 27 - 44)
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- Eileen Crist
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0003
[biosphere, mental life, animal mind, anthropogenic crisis, environmental decline]
In recent years humanity has come to two momentous realizations. The first is that we are in the midst of an anthropogenic crisis of life—an extinction spasm and ecological unraveling that is moving the biosphere towards an impoverished biogeological era. The second is that, in the course of history, especially the history of domination-driven Western culture, humanity has tended to deny or underestimate the mental life of animals. This chapter explores the conceptual and historical links between the unraveling of life and the denigration of animal minds. It argues that the long-standing denial or disparagement of animal minds has contributed to the devastation of the biosphere. The portrayal of animals as inferior beings, and eventually even as mechanical entities, facilitated the objectification of the natural world and its transformation into a domain of resources. (pages 45 - 62)
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- Dale Peterson
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0004
[bushmeat industry, animal protection, animal conservation, wild animals, African great apes, self-interest, other-interest argument, conservation]
Bushmeat commerce currently removes as much as five million metric tons of wild animal biomass per year from the Congo Basin ecosystem—an amount that is completely unsustainable. It also threatens the well-being and very existence of the three African great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos). This chapter argues for a “cultural conversation” about the problem and nature of bushmeat. It presents two ways of talking about bushmeat: by invoking human self-interest (such as protection from some serious public health threats) and by invoking human other-interest. The other-interest argument for protecting some species such as the great apes would identify a moral hierarchy based on either an evolutionary closeness to humans or a reasoned calculation of the animal's psychological presence, or both. (pages 63 - 76)
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- Ben A. Minteer
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0005
[bushmeat, wild animals, animal protection, animal conservation]
This chapter examines the “bushmeat crisis.” It argues that a feasible, effective, and ethically inclusive policy response to the crisis requires balancing diverse values, interests, and stakeholders in workable, multilevel partnerships that can reduce human impact on wildlife species and tropical forest systems while improving the food security and livelihood prospects of poor rural people. It also requires specific policy agendas and management regimes that demonstrate great context sensitivity given the cultural and institutional variability across bushmeat areas, the different degrees of biological vulnerability of wildlife populations, and varying levels of productivity and options for achieving sustainable harvest rates within particular ecosystems. (pages 77 - 94)
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- Daniel T. Blumstein
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0006
[scientific evidence, conservation, adaptive management, island fox, mallard ducks, hihi]
This chapter first explains why scientific evidence plays a key role in conservation and management. It then discusses how scientific evidence should be used in decision making and how to handle lack of evidence. It presents examples of wise management involving the island fox (Urocyon littoralis) in Southern California's Channel Islands, the mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) in North America, and the hihi (Notiomystis cincta) in New Zealand. (pages 103 - 112)
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- Joel Berger
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0007
[rabbit drives, ecological health, coyotes, sheep, predation, human health]
This chapter discusses how we fail to learn from past mistakes when we ignore complex relationships among various species, in this case interactions between grazing sheep, coyotes, and rabbits. It focuses on rabbit drives, which are used to kill these animals in mass, because in Wyoming and Idaho they are considered predators or varmints. It adopts a human-centric approach and asks how rabbit drives affect our human economies or societal values. It argues that killing rabbits might actually increase coyotes' predation on sheep. There are also unintended consequences that shift ecological relationships in a given area that might negatively affect human health. (pages 113 - 118)
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- Camilla H. Fox
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0008
[predator control program, federal programs, cattle, community-based approaches, livestock predation, compassion, coexistence]
This chapter discusses the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) predator control program, which killed over five million animals in 2010. Predators targeted include coyotes, wolves, bobcats, badgers, mountain lions, foxes, and bears. Focusing on coyotes, it is shown that the long-term wanton and rampant killing of these mammals has not had a significant impact on their numbers or predation on livestock. Indeed, recent figures for nonpredator deaths of cattle and calves provided by the USDA show that more than 95 percent are due to disease and other factors, not active predation. It is argued that livestock–predator conflicts are more readily solved by paying attention to the biology of coyotes as well as by using a community-based approach that stresses coexistence and compassion. (pages 119 - 124)
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- Marco Festa-Bianchet
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0009
[wild vertebrates, harvested species, evolution, conservation, ecology, sustainability]
This chapter discusses how the harvesting of wild vertebrates can be a powerful selective force, shaping the evolution of harvested species. It argues that if some traits make an individual less likely to be harvested, and if harvest pressure is high, then if those traits have a genetic component they should become more common over time. Humans will then shape the evolution of harvested species, sometimes with results that may be detrimental to both the species and the harvesters. The chapter concludes that sustainable compromises are possible with knowledge of the mating ecology of each species and the realization that long-term sustainability includes evolution as well as ecology. (pages 125 - 136)
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- Philip J. Seddon, Yolanda van Heezik
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0010
[species reintroduction, species restoration, human–wildlife conflict, conservation management]
This chapter examines the three challenges faced by reintroduction practitioners in dealing with public perceptions of, and engagement with, species restorations. These are: (1) a biased focus on large-bodied charismatic species; (2) potential human–wildlife conflict in the restoration of keystone species; and (3) the need to acknowledge and adapt restoration targets to a human-modified world. (pages 137 - 152)
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- Sarah R. B. King
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0011
[species restoration, mammal reintroduction, Przewalski horses, red wolves, conservation management]
This chapter discusses reintroduction projects involving Przewalski horses and red wolves. It argues that despite the many differences between Przewalski horses and the red wolf and their reintroductions, there are also many similarities: both were reintroduced from populations that had been captive for several generations owing to their extinction in the wild; and both reintroduction projects need to address problems of hybridization, inbreeding, and conflicts over land use. Knowledge of the animals' behavior will help managers mitigate these problems and can potentially aid persistence in the wild of current populations. (pages 153 - 158)
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- Liv Baker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0012
[animals, individual differences, variation, conservation, wildlife translocations]
This chapter discusses the importance of understanding individual differences among animals. It argues that ignoring individuals and their variation can limit our understanding of animals and natural processes. The awareness of individuals and their variation also has applied and ethical implications, which can be seen in efforts to conserve threatened species. This point is illustrated using wildlife translocations (including reintroductions). (pages 159 - 166)
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- Brian Czech
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0013
[economic growth, habitat destruction, wild animals, animal welfare, animal protection, steady state economy]
This chapter discusses how the process of economic growth leads to more habitat destruction and more inhumane treatment of wild animals. It considers two alternatives to growth: economic degrowth and the steady state economy. While degrowth, also known as “recession,” is hardly a viable policy goal, the steady state economy has sociopolitical potential, especially in a world of climate change, resource shortages, and financial crises that threaten the credibility of neoclassical economics. The chapter concludes with a discussion of some of the means available to animal protection advocates for pursuing the establishment of a steady state economy. (pages 171 - 182)
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- Eric J. Shelton
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0014
[conservation economy, nature, sea birds, Long Point Project, social movement, ecosystem activism]
This chapter focuses on conservation, biodiversity, tourism, and the conservation economy in New Zealand and how different conceptions of nature add complexity to the notion of “ignoring nature.” It discusses the interplay between politics, economics, and activism. It argues that Kate Soper's (1995) philosophical framework provides a basis for clarifying ideas on the status and role of nature, as they are espoused, and may lead to better-informed community and professional involvement in the production of habitat and in species reintroduction. It highlights the Long Point Project, aimed at recreating and restoring sea birds' colonies. The project illustrates a social movement from environmental quietism to urgent ecosystem activism, a development that reflects an increased sense of individual agency, a key component of the neoliberal agenda. (pages 183 - 196)
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- Barbara J. King
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0015
[conservation, human–animal interaction, Anthropocene, anthropology]
This chapter argues that humans became human through their interaction with other animals. Knowledge of this fact provides a new way of thinking about our responsibilities to help our ailing environment. It further argues that an evolutionary perspective on the Anthropocene is only helpful when coupled with action. It suggests some ways to help, including making a difference for animals in one's local environment and supporting conservation organizations that fund jobs for local people. (pages 205 - 210)
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- Susan Clayton
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0016
[nature, environmental identity, conservation, Peter Kahn, shifting baseline syndrome, American culture]
This chapter argues that people ignore nature partly due to a perceived, and illusory, distinction between what is relevant to humans and what pertains to nature. However, people also like nature and are predisposed to have positive emotional responses to it. It discusses Peter Kahn's (1999) notion of environmental generational amnesia that claims that each generation is oblivious to the environmental degradation that has taken place since the time of the previous generation—the shifting baseline syndrome. The simultaneous concern and lack of concern for animals partially reflects a long-standing disjunction between humans and nature that seems to be a dominant theme in Western and perhaps particularly American culture. (pages 211 - 222)
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- Philip Tedeschi, Sarah M. Bexell, Jolie NeSmith
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0017
[social workers, social work practice, conservation, environmental justice, human health, climate change, food security, population growth, animal welfare]
This chapter focuses on the role of social work in improving relationships among humans, animals, and other nature. Social workers deal with society's most serious problems. Today, the most pressing issue facing the human condition is the worldwide decline in biodiversity and subsequent threats to global stability and human health. Social workers must encourage and empower people to gain an understanding of the interrelationships among themselves, their families, and communities, including the natural environment and its nonhuman inhabitants. The chapter also discusses some of the main ecological disturbances impacting human health. These include climate change, global environmental injustice, food security, biological diversity, human population growth, and animal welfare. (pages 223 - 236)
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- David Johns
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0018
[conservation movement, social movement, conservation activism, conservation history]
This chapter discusses the seven major attributes of successful movements for major change, drawing upon lessons from conservation history and from the successes and failures of other movements. These are (i) a clear, bold vision; (ii) combining insider and outsider strategies; (iii) creating a strong community; (iv) uncompromising on goals but flexible means; (v) perseverance; (vi) exploiting divisions within elites and crises; and (vii) understanding power. (pages 237 - 256)
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- Carrie Packwood Freeman, Jason Leigh Jarvis
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0019
[mass media, conservation, social change, nonhuman animals, news, entertainment media]
This chapter explores the necessity, potential, and challenges of relying on mass media to inspire the social change needed to reverse the behaviors and beliefs that are contributing the destruction of the environment. It considers how media raises awareness about habitat and wildlife protection, and how media could change humanist worldviews and consumptive lifestyles to promote self-awareness of humanity's position as a fellow species in an ecological web in crisis. It begins by reviewing scholarly literature on the social function of mass media and the way they represent nonhuman animals (NHAs). It then suggests methods for addressing environmental challenges through the news and entertainment media, including ideas for media practitioners as well as concerned citizens. (pages 257 - 270)
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- Olin E. Gene Myers
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0020
[conservation education, children, natural care, environmental damage, coping, psychological resilience]
This chapter discusses the various aspects of humane and conservation education for children. It covers the developmental psychology of children's connections to animals; obstacles to the expression of natural care; how children cope with stresses related to biodiversity loss and other dimensions of environmental damage; supporting practical and emotional coping; how adults and children can learn to participate in and lead change; and developing psychological resilience. (pages 271 - 286)
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- Daniel Ramp, Dror Ben-Ami, Keely Boom, David B. Croft
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0021
[wildlife conservation, animal welfare science, conservation science, pest management, environmental restoration, Australasian Wildlife Management Society, macropodid marsupials]
This chapter presents case studies of wildlife management in Australasia to explore the goals of animal welfare science and animal conservation science with respect to wild and free-living animals. It highlights the trend in Australasia (as embodied by the Australasian Wildlife Management Society) to treat symptoms (invasive or presumed overabundant species) rather than examining causes (habitat change, loss of connectivity), restricting avenues of decision making that lead to nonlethal solutions. Lack of consideration for individual well-being is rife from pest management to environmental restoration projects. The chapter emphasizes the need for a paradigm shift by presenting examples of wildlife management of macropodid marsupials to tease out the implications of adopting individual well-being in conservation and management. It also provides guidelines for policy/paradigm shifts necessary to bring about compassionate conservation in Australasia and sets out future objectives. (pages 295 - 316)
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- Peter J. Li
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0022
[wild animals, animal abuse, animal cruelty, animal welfare, Chinese culture]
This chapter discusses the unprecedented exploitation and abuse of wildlife animals in China. It cites examples such as brutal farming operations that victimize tigers, bears, and fur animals; shark finning, where fishermen cut off fins and then toss the body back into the sea; and outdated enclosure design and poor management in the Chinese zoo industry. The chapter then considers the legacy of human–animal relations in Chinese culture and argues that Chinese cultural tradition does not sanction assault on wildlife animals and on nature in general. Daoism and Buddhism both call on society to respect nature and have mercy for other nonhuman lives. Confucianism also rejects excessive, unreasonable, and unplanned use of natural resources, including wildlife animals. It is not Chinese culture but the national drive for economic modernization that is responsible for the assault on Chinese wildlife. (pages 317 - 330)
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- Vivek Menon
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0023
[nature conservation, poverty, ahimsa, dharma, wildlife protection, environmental policy]
This chapter considers India's success in protecting wildlife despite rampant poverty. Its success can be attributed to a triangular playing field in which social, economic, and ethical factors figure into the equation of conserving nature. India has a strong historical component for the preservation of nature based on the principles of ahimsa and the spiritual, ethical, and moral code of dharma. Thus, protected areas for wildlife had increased to 5 percent of the country's surface area by the year 2000, a tribute to the strong yet visionary policies and laws of the land. (pages 331 - 342)
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- Josphat Ngonyo, Mariam Wanjala
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0024
[nature conservation, endangered species, resource management, community involvement, ecotourism]
This chapter discuses conservation challenges in Kenya. The country has a number of projects aimed at protecting endangered species and maintaining biodiversity. Those taking precedence include protecting rhinoceroses and elephants, preserving wetlands and forests, and educating youth. The particular challenges faced include economic and social-cultural ones, the destruction of wildlife habitats, security, inadequate incentives, and climate change. Political corruption is also a major problem. A recent study showed that political corruption and bad governance, rather than human population pressures and poverty, may be the greatest threat to wildlife in developing countries. Community involvement in resource management is an essential component of conservation projects, and local people—the ultimate owners and guardians of natural ecosystems—must be the direct beneficiaries of the income that accrues from the use of ecosystems. Ecotourism should also be promoted in reserves and parks due to its overall benefits to both the people and the environment. (pages 343 - 352)
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- Bron Taylor
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0025
[religion, environmental thinkers, nature, conservation, traditional cultures, modern science]
This chapter first discusses how the greatest environmental thinkers in the Western world have criticized the dominant religions of their day, viewing them as promoting beliefs and priorities that lead inexorably to nature's destruction. It then turns to the sensory and sensual spiritualities of these environmental thinkers, which reflect an approach that is the opposite of ignoring nature, for they all depended on the close observation of it. It also argues that we can learn from the ecological wisdom that is often embedded in traditional cultures, which arose and maintained themselves as the result of long observation and experimentation within environmental systems. Both traditional ecological learning and modern scientific methods demonstrate that the flourishing of all species depends on the well-being of the entire environmental systems that all life forms are embedded in and partially constitute. (pages 353 - 360)
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- Anthony L. Rose, A. Gabriela Rose
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0026
[nature, conservation, biosynergy research, ancient myth, earth-life, human-horse connection]
This chapter draws upon the film Avatar to explore antidotes to the modern human folly of “Ignoring Nature”. It examines the wisdom implied in key quotes, events, and images from the film, and interprets these ideas in light of biosynergy research and theory, ancient myth and folklore, and the authors' own personal experiences. The first section of the chapter emphasizes the benefits of seeing and treating all earth-life and ourselves as kindred spirits in a harmonic universe. The second section focuses on the transformative and healing power of the human-horse connection. (pages 361 - 378)
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- Marc Bekoff
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925363.003.0027
[conservation, protection, nature, compassion]
This chapter presents some final thoughts from the book's editor. He says that while animal suffering continues all over the world, there are also “good” things happening, and these can be recalled to keep us inspired and engaged when it looks like there is little or no hope. He presents some thoughts that keep him going, such as thinking positively and concentrating on successes rather than failures. He also talks about compassionate conservation, saying that if we develop compassion and empathy there is hope for our planet; if we continue to ignore nature we will make little progress dealing with the problems at hand. (pages 379 - 388)
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