Poverty and Conservation -- Making the Connection

Students in Ghana planting trees with A Rocha's Climate Stewards project

If ecology is the study of connections, then the ecologists should be the first to rally against the injustices of environmental degradation and the subsequent human suffering that accompanies it. The reason why many don’t, as Peter Harris points out, is that we live in a time of complete disconnection. He writes, “products conceal their origins, academic disciplines operate in expert solitude, social relationships fragment.” But the poor do not have the luxury of disconnection from their environment. There are no presto logs to burn when their forests are decimated, no stashes of bottled water when the spring runs dry, no fertile fields around the bend when their crops sizzle during a prolonged drought. Stella Simiyu, a native Kenyan and a Senior Research Scientist in plant conservation at the National Museums of Kenya, writes this about the predicament of the poor.

If you look at Africa, the rural poor depend directly on the natural resource base. This is where their pharmacy, supermarket, power company and water company are. What would happen to you if these things were removed from your local neighbourhood? We must invest in environmental conservation because this is how we enhance the ability of the rural poor to have options and provide for them ways of getting out of the poverty trap.

It is only too easy to live in happy naivete when it comes to the social and environmental costs associated with our extravagant Western lifestyles. What we need are some clarion voices to draw those connections for us. Enter the words of Hosea.

Hear the word of the Lord…There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery…Because of this the land mourns…the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying. (Hosea 4:1–3)
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