The Language of Conservation is a UC Santa Cruz, interdisciplinary initiative that seeks a radical change in how we talk and think about the value of life in all its diverse, natural forms.  The initiative is motivated by the suspicion of program directors, Claudio Campagna and Daniel Guevara, that the discourse that has dominated world-class conservation for the last three decades has undermined well-meaning efforts to promote biodiversity, because it operates primarily with the politically expedient language of sustainable development.  It is the language of economics applied to nature, which is a language incapable of comprehending the value of life, except for its value as an instrument to human development.  According to Campagna and Guevara, if we are to attain an authentically ethical relationship to nature, we must carefully consider what Wittgenstein says about philosophy in general: that it is a “battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language.” Conservation scientists, activists, philosophers and academics from a wide variety of disciplines, literary figures, students, and policy makers must work together to push through the current limits of our language and to articulate what Aldo Leopold called “values as yet uncaptured by language.”

Max Ernst, Fireside Angel

"They say it is the sixth mass extinction of life forms, we say it is the first annihilation." C.C. & D.G.

Program Directors

Program directors Claudio Campagna and Daniel Guevara have been discussing and teaching environmental issues for decades, working closely together in the last four years, including co-teaching graduate seminars at UC Santa Cruz. Campagna has been involved in conservation action for three decades. Guevara has taught ethics for many years, including environmental ethics. He has published in ethics and the history of philosophy, and his current book project is on the nature of philosophical problems. Thus far, their collaboration has resulted in a major conference, a major publication of wide public appeal (found in the collection Keeping the Wild: Against Domestication of the Earth, Island Press, 2016), and several works in progress.

Publications by the Program Directors
  • Keeping the Wild: Against Domestication of the Earth
  • Bailando en Tierra de Nadie
  • Wittgenstein and the Philosophy of Mind
  • Diario de un Hombre que Piensa el Agua
  • Adrift: Tales of Ocean Fragility
  • A Comparative Analysis of Vision and Mission Statements of International Environmental Organizations

Endangered Species

The conservation movement faces two essentially different crises. In addition to the philosophical crisis of language and concepts, there is the familiar and appalling crisis of the wanton exploitation of nature, including the annihilation of biodiversity indicated by unprecedented rates of extinction and crashing of wildlife populations.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List (November 2015) shows the following:

Defaunation reaches some of the most iconic species at the epicenter of conservation efforts:

  • Black rhino
  • African elephant
  • Panthera polar bear
  • Diceros bicornis
  • Loxodonta africana
  • Ursus maritimus
  • African lion
  • Tiger
  • Blue whale
  • Panthera leo
  • Panthera tigris
  • Balaenoptera musculus

    These animals are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.

Species threatened with imminent extinction:

Amphibians top the list as the most threatened taxon of all vertebrates.

The ecocidal trend deepens:

52 species of mammals, birds, and amphibians move one category closer to extinction each year.
Reef-forming corals, that support the highest marine biodiversity, are worsening faster than any other life form.