In the physical sciences, the term conservation is the observation that certain quantities (i.e., mass, momentum) are preserved regardless of physical processes or transformations: see conservation law for this topic. This article is about the conservation ethic.
Conservation is an ethic of resource use, allocation, exploitation, and protection. Its primary focus is upon maintaining the health of the natural world: its forests, fisheries[?], habitats, and biological diversity.
The consumer conservation ethic is best expressed by the four R's:
The principal value underlying most expressions of the conservation ethic is that the natural world has intrinsic and intangible worth along with utilitarian value. These might be termed the Romantic schools of conservation. More Utilitarian schools of conservation seek a proper valuation of local and global impacts of human activity upon nature in their effect upon human well being, now and to our posterity. How such values are assessed and exchanged among people determines the social, political, and personal restraints and imperatives by which conservation is practiced.
In the United States of America, the year 1864 saw the publication of two books which laid the foundation for Romantic and Utilitarian conservation traditions in America. The posthumous publication of Henry David Thoreau's Maine Woods established the grandeur of unspoiled nature as a citadel to nourish the spirit of man. From George Perkins Marsh[?] a very different book, Man and Nature, later subtitled "The Earth as Modified by Human Nature", cataloged his observations of man exhausting and altering the land from which his sustainance derives.
In common usage, the term refers to the activity of systematically protecting natural resources such as forests, including biological diversity. Carl F. Jordan[?] defines the term in his book Replacing Quantity With Quality As a Goal for Global Management
The origins of biological conservation can be traced to philosophical and religious beliefs connecting Man with Nature. Taoist and Shintoist philosophies encourage recognition of special sites, allowing spiritual experiments.
Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism, grant a sacred value to animals. Primitive religions also recognize sacred values to sites such as forests, lakes, mountains...
There are three main philosophical movements
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, in 1880, defend the idea that Nature has a meaning, beyond economic profits. Nature is a temple where the Man can share and communicate with God.
Gifford Pinchot, at the beginning of the XX century, develops an ethics of resources conservation, which is based on an utilitarian philosophy. According to him, Nature is a set of things defined by their utility or their harmful character. He defends the sharing of resources between all users, current and future (a first approach to sustainable development) by avoiding despoiling. However, he does not take into account the costs of degradation and pollution of the environnement nor the erosion of resources.
Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac, 1959), an evolutionary ecology develops, a prospect marked by dynamism rather than by static conservation. In his famous chapter Land Ethics, Leopold states A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.