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Origins, Uses, and Transformation of Extinction Rhetoric

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Abstract:

The concept of extinction is at the heart of the modern conservation movement, and massive resources have been spent on developing models and frameworks for quantifying and codifying a phenomenon that has been described by American researcher and naturalist Edward O. Wilson as an obscure and local biological process. Scientists, environmentalists, and politicians have repeatedly used extinction rhetoric as a core justification for a global conservation agenda that seeks to influence a wide range of human activities despite the inherent difficulty and uncertainty involved in estimating current and future rates of extinction, or even in verifying the demise of a particular species. In this article we trace the historical origins of the extinction concept and discuss its power to influence policies, agendas, and behaviors. We argue that conservation needs to develop a more culturally meaningful rhetoric of extinction that aligns scientific evidence, cultural frames, institutional frameworks, and organizational interests.

Keywords: CLIMATE CHANGE; CONSERVATION; CRISIS; EXTINCTION; FRAMES; RED LISTS; RHETORIC

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3167/ares.2010.010105

Publication date: January 1, 2010

More about this publication?
  • The field of research on environment and society is growing rapidly and becoming of ever-greater importance not only in academia but also in policy circles and for the public at large. Climate change, the water crisis, deforestation, biodiversity loss, the looming energy crisis, nascent resource wars, environmental refugees, and environmental justice are just some of the many compelling challenges facing society today and in the future.

    As a forum to address these issues, we are delighted to present an important new peer-reviewed annual: Environment and Society: Advances in Research. Through this journal we hope to stimulate advanced research and action on these and other critical issues and encourage international communication and exchange among all relevant disciplines.

    Published in association with the Earth Institute of Columbia University, Environment and Society publishes critical reviews of the latest research literature including subjects of theoretical, methodological, substantive, and applied significance. Articles also survey the literature regionally and thematically and reflect the work of anthropologists, geographers, environmental scientists, and human ecologists from all parts of the world in order to internationalize the conversations within environmental anthropology, environmental geography, and other environmentally oriented social sciences. The publication will appeal to academic, research and policy-making audiences alike.
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