GWS2013: Plenary sessions




The future of conservation in the Anthropocene

In the last twenty years it has become apparent that Earth is being utterly transformed by human activity.  The scope of our domination is so complete that some have proposed that we have entered a new era in Earth history: the Anthropocene.  The plenary sessions at GWS2013 will offer two very different visions of the future of conservation in this brave new world.


Monday morning, March 11: Michael Soulé

Michael Soulé is one of the USA's preeminent conservation thinkers.  He is widely credited with being one of the founders of the discipline of conservation biology, and was the first president of the Society for Conservation Biology.  He also helped found the Wildlands Network.  Among his publications are several textbooks on conservation biology, works on continental-scale conservation, and a response to postmodernist critiques of nature.  Soulé is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz; before his retirement, he taught at several other institutions.  His extensive international experience includes having helped found the first university in Malawi, East Africa. 

The recipient of numerous awards, he continues to do research on ecosystem regulation by strongly interactive (keystone) species. Currently, Soulé is completing a book about the origins and evolution of sin and how it can inform our understanding of human nature can guide conservation and related life-affirming movements.  He is a “possibilist,” not an optimist, about the future of biodiversity.


Tuesday morning, March 12: Emma Marris

Emma Marris is a key figure in a robust debate that has gotten a lot of attention recently: whether the human domination of Earth is necessarily a bad thing.  She is a freelance writer based in Columbia, Missouri, and holds a master's degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University. Marris publishes on a wide range of topics; her work has appeared in Conservation, Wired, The New York Times, and in Nature, where she was a staffer for several years. 

It is her 2011 book Rambunctious Garden, however, that has captured the attention of environmental journalists and the conservation community.  There, she argues that "as humans change every centimeter of Earth, from what species live where to its very climate, our strategies for saving nature must change," and offers specific ideas on how conservationists must give up cherished, but outdated, ideals and learn to embrace without regret "our strange, beautiful and totally humanized planet."


The Anthropocene? . . . What's that?

Geoscientists are notoriously conservative in declaring the advent of a new epoch in Earth history.  But there is now serious talk that the Holocene has ended and a new era has begun, called the Anthropocene, a term brought to prominence in 2000 by Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen. Simply stated, the concept refers to the planet's ecosystems being completely transformed by human activity.  The idea of the Anthropocene has picked up steam over the past couple of years and its putative existence (and, if existing, implications) are now being debated far beyond the geological and physical sciences.

In 2011, The Royal Society devoted an issue of its Philosophical Transactions to the Anthropocene. As The New York Times reported, "According to one of the papers, the name is 'a vivid expression of the degree of environmental change on planet Earth.'" 

In conservation circles, the implications of our entering an Anthropocene era have been debated hotly over the last year in conferences and in the media.  Should conservatonists abandon standards of naturalness, stop vilifying invasive alien species, and concede that species extinctions are inevitable — in short,  learn to "Love Your Monsters," as a new e-book urges — or is all this an overreaction, or, even worse, a capitulation to anti-conservation forces — "waving the white flag," as E. O. Wilson recently said? 

It is an argument whose outlines can easily become distorted and caricatured.  Our plenary sessions at GWS2013 will aim to explain what's at stake — while avoiding the pitfalls of invective and oversimplification.

(Posted December 14:) Here's a quick overview of the argument newly published in Slate.  The author, you'll see, is very sympathetic toward the position of Marris and those whom he calls "modernist Greens" (others call them "eco-pragmatists," a confusing term since there is already a very different meaning of the term in use in environmental philosophy.)


Live interactive Webcasts of Soulé, Marris keynotes offered at no charge

(March 1, 2013) — In a first for GWS, we will be offering live Webcasts of the two keynotes at the 2013 George Wright Society Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites.  Thanks to support from the NPS Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Program, you can sign up to listen to and take part in an interactive live Webcast of Plenary Session talks by the eminent conservation biologist Michael Soulé and the noted science writer Emma Marris.

Soulé and Marris will address "The Future of Conservation in the Anthropocene."  In the last couple of decades it has become apparent that the Earth is being utterly transformed by human activity.  The scope of our domination is so complete that some have proposed that we have entered a new era in Earth history: the Anthropocene.  The GWS2013 featured speakers will offer two very different visions of the future of conservation in this brave new world.  Soulé is a staunch and passionate defender of science-based conservation biology; Marris, through her notable book "Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World," argues that human dominion over the planet is not necessarily a bad thing, and that we need to fundamentally rethink our conservation goals.  It will be an exciting exchange of views.  Read more about them at

Please click the links below to register for the Webcasts.   There is no charge, but you must register in advance and viewing will be allocated on a first come, first served basis with a limited number of connections available.  This means that registering does not guarantee you access to the Webcast — to have the best chance of getting one of the available connections, you must logon promptly on the day of the Webcast.

NOTE: Each webcast is a unique event so if you want to participate in both sessions you must register separately for each one.  Also, some operating systems require installation of the Microsoft Silverlight plugin in order to use the registration links below.  If that's the case, you'll be prompted to download the plugin (which is free).

Register for the Webcast of Michael Soulé's session, Monday, March 11, 8:00am to 9:30am Mountain Time (Registration Code: DENGWS13)

Register for the Webcast of Emma Marris's session, Tuesday, March 12, 8:00am to 9:30am Mountain Time (Registration Code: DENGWS13)