Conservation is generally associated with the protection of natural resources, while preservation is associated with the protection of buildings, objects, and landscapes. Put simply conservation seeks the proper use of nature, while preservation seeks protection of nature from use.
Conservation and preservation are closely linked and may indeed seem to mean the same thing. Both terms involve a degree of protection, but how that is protection is carried out is the key difference.
During the environmental movement of the early 20th century, two opposing factions emerged: conservationists and preservationists. Conservationists sought to regulate human use while preservationists sought to eliminate human impact altogether.
Conservations vs Preservation – A Brief History
The National Park Service points out that while both terms involve some level of protection, conservation “seeks the proper use of nature,” while preservation “seeks the protection of nature from use.”
Mainly, both terms imply a level of protection, but the difference lies in how the protection is carried out. Conservation is the protection of natural resources, while preservation takes up the protection of human-made objects and landscapes.
First of all, let’s take a trip down memory lane back in the early 20th century when both of these terminologies came into being. When the environmental protection movement began, researchers and scientists came up with two different concepts.
While both concepts aimed to protect the environment and promote sustainable practices worldwide ultimately, they bought forward opposing plans of action.
To the conservationists, human activity was the root of the entire degradation scenario. That’s why they aimed to regulate human use and look for ways to enhance the economy at the same time.
Preservationists believed in the same concept but wanted to take more drastic measures compared to the conservationists. They sought to eliminate human use of the environment and preserve all living beings’ value, whether they’re useful to human existence or not.
The first person to introduce the preservationist movement was Aldo Leopold, also known as the father of ecology.
He created a wilderness preservation program to benefit the well-being of all living things on earth. His idea was to preserve ecology in its purest form and revitalize the original sustainability of the planet.
However, conservationists tried to limit this comprehensive approach by finding a middle ground between environmental protection and human consumption. Thus, the World Wildlife Fund came into being in 1961.
This approach aimed to conserve spaces teeming with wildlife in Africa, but with an economic motive of commercializing them with game hunting areas.
The formulation of these organizations led to a heated debate between the two schools of thought. Until a formal agreement was bought about political intervention to seek sustainable practices for environmental conservation.
What is Conservation?
Conservation is the sustainable use of natural resources. Our natural resources include wildlife, air, water, and what we get from earth. Some of our natural resources are renewable, while others, unfortunately, are not.
Some examples of renewable resources are water, timber, and sunlight. Conservation of renewable natural resources means limiting their consumption to a rate slower than their replacement rate. Non-renewable natural resources – like our fossil fuels – can be conserved by maintaining a sufficient amount to be utilized by future generations.
The focus of natural resources conservation is on the needs and interests of people; these needs may fall under biological, cultural, recreational, or economic.
What is Preservation?
Preservation, on the other hand, means maintaining the present state of something. Preservation of natural resources is mainly focused on resources that have not been touched by humans.
The main concern for preserving some resources is that mankind has been excessively utilizing them for housing, farming, industry, tourism, and other human development purposes, which has damaged their natural beauty.
Difference Between Conservation and Preservation
The philosophy behind the conservation of natural resources is that their use is a necessity for human progress and development; however, conservationists stress that changes should not be wasteful or result in the degradation of the environment.
Conservation is aimed at reducing the ‘wear and tear’ of the Earth. Preservation, on the other hand, aims to keep the resources in a pristine state.
Conservationists try as much as possible to manage the resources to make them more abundant and allow people to benefit from them; preservationists want to keep things as they are, in the belief that everything and everyone has the right to live, thus allowing trees, for example, to grow without being touched by humans.
Often, preservation is done to environments that were already damaged. Conversely, conservation is done to prevent the damage or destruction before it causes more serious problems. Most of the time, archival institutions group conservation and preservation together.
This is mainly because many conservationists also play the role of preservationists and vice versa. Additionally, most of the ideas and methods of the two are similar. To make it more distinct and clearer, the difference between conservation and preservation is that the former is aimed at repairing the damage, while the latter seeks to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Conservation promotes the wise utilization of resources and allows their use in a manner that ensures their continued availability. Preservation, on the other hand, discourages the use of resources in order to maintain their present state; in other words, preservation does not allow the usage of some resources.