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.”
Claudio Campagna and Daniel Guevara have been working closely together in many years, on the practice and theory of the ethics of nature conservation. Campagna is long-time conservation scientist and activist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, and founder and director of the Sea and Sky project in Patagonia. 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 Kant’s conception of philosophy.