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USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-27

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Conservation, Environmentalism, Conservation of natural resources


As cultural animals we create meaning and order. Stories are the primary means our species uses to do this. Stories that rise to the level of myth exert powerful effects on behavior. The dominant myths that explain our relationship to the natural word have two serious failings: our self-importance and a superficial and simplified image of who we are. These stories obscure more than they enlighten, thereby preventing us from addressing the causes of the current extinction crisis. Conservationists can and must fashion new stories that take account of our disproportionate impact on the Earth and its origins in our behavioral plasticity, and that offer rules for constraining our destructive behavior. For such stories to actually work in constraining human behavior, they must be deeply internalized and socially reinforced within the framework of existing mythologies, both religious and secular. Two historical examples of how this has worked are examined, and specific recommendations are made for how conservationists can maximize their cultural influence through storytelling and mythmaking.


This article is a U.S. government work, and is not subject to copyright in the United States. This is the final PDF. Originally published in USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-27.2003.

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