New ecological insights call for robust nature conservation law

- EN - NL

Recent scientific insights in the biodiversity crisis and the ways of being of animals and plants require an adjusted moral compass and fitting, robust nature conservation law. Both are essential to curb harmful human activity and thus to give new generations of people as well as other Earth dwellers a future. This is argued by Professor of Nature Conservation Law Arie Trouwborst in his inaugural lecture at Tilburg University on Friday, January 26, 2024.

The biodiversity crisis has reached almost unimaginable proportions. Animals, plants, and ecosystems are disappearing at a pace equal only to the last mass extinction event, that of the dinosaurs. The current extinction wave is man-made: through the destruction of habitats, overexploitation, invasive species, pollution, and climate change. The immense loss of biodiversity can only be halted if humans succeed in reining themselves in,  Arie Trouwborst explains in his lecture. 

The law as an essential tool 

The law is a tool of choice for reducing the footprint of agriculture, fishing, industry, transport, and other human activities. Nature conservation law plays a leading role, by legally protecting areas and species against harmful human action, and via active obligations to conserve and restore. These obligations already exist, but should be applied more generously and effectively.

But why, Trouwborst asks himself on behalf of the critics, should we want to go down the road of self-control? That is, why should we clamp down on nitrogen emissions and the use of pesticides and continue to tolerate beavers, badgers, and wolves? 

Self-preservation and intrinsic value

One part of the answer is that ecology is the basis of everything else. Without well-functioning ecosystems, there is no fertile soil, no food, no clean water, no livable climate, no air to breathe. Ultimately, nature conservation is a matter of self-preservation and securing a future for coming generations.

A second reason is the ’intrinsic value’ of nature, that is recognized in different treaties and in Dutch law. Our understanding of this value has increased substantially as a result of new scientific insights into the intelligence, the awareness, and the emotional life of non-human Earth dwellers. Like people, geese, bats, and boars have individual personalities, and buffaloes and bees practice democratic decision-making. Even trees and plants turn out to have their own forms of consciousness, and can cooperate, remember, and plan ahead.

According to Trouwborst, all of this calls for an adjusted moral compass and robust nature conservation legislation. This should result in a lot of space being returned to nature, a model of coexistence where people share the landscape generously with other species, and ambitious efforts be made to restore nature. Recognizing nature’s intrinsic rights could also help achieve this.

Inaugural lecture and symposium

    Prof. Arie Trouwborst will hold his inaugural lecture, entitled Restoring what is broken: Wildlife law in an era of ecological emergency, eye-opening science and maturing morality, on Friday, January 26, at 16:15 hrs.The lecture can also be attended via livestream.

    Prior to that on the same day, a symposium will be held:  Megafauna restoration - Ecological & legal perspectives on rewilding with large mammals in Brabant and beyond.