When we talk about action to help the environment, the words conservation and preservation come to mind. Is there a difference between the two? Nowadays, not really. Conservation and preservation go hand in hand with the goals of environmental organizations. However, when you get down to the specific definitions of these two words, there is an important difference.
It dates back to the early 20th century and the ideas of two men: Gifford Pinchot and John Muir. Both wanted to help the environment, but they had different views on how to do it. Muir believed in preservation, while Pinchot believed in conservation.1
When you define these two words, the difference becomes clear2 :
Conservation = creating a sustainable relationship between humans and the environment.
Preservation = having areas that are untouched by humans, or only inhabited by native peoples.
Pinchot thought that land should be used by humans for recreation, research, and for responsible use by industries like logging or mining. Muir wanted land to be protected and left alone.1
Preservation, for the most part, takes humans out of the equation, while conservation recognizes that humans are part of the planet and we should strive to build a sustainable relationship between our needs and what the earth provides.3Preservation would keep nature from ever being used by us.4
Back in the early 20th century, Pinchot and Muir were seen to be on opposite sides of the issue. Today, however, these two goals are intertwined. Organizations are simultaneously trying to fix the harm we’ve allowed industries to do to the planet, and trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.2
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Sources & Further Reading: