Nationalism, Conservation and Globalisation: the History of National Parks (20 May 2014)
Most people have an emotional and/or physical relation connected with the term “national park”. If you are a local villager, living around the border around Kruger National Park in South Africa you probably have a different view of its significance than if you are a citizen living in Sidney, having the opportunity to visit Royal National Park on a regularly basis if you want. Thus, your social and economic situation, educational level and your residence play an important role for your experience and perception.
Although “national park” has become like brand name, it has completely different implications depending on when, where and why it was established. In addition, today, the rules for a specific ecosystem/natural environment to become a national park have been, or are being “modernized”. The right of people to a healthy environment, as well as linking justice to environmental questions, is changing the concept of the term as it was originally; often” untouched” wilderness for so called sportsmen. Since the UNESCO conference in 1972, to the “duty” of national parks, issues regarding natural heritage and environmental sustainability have been added. Moreover, with the globalization, a more extended communication with involved authorities, local and international societies is required to integrate all the functions of a national park. This could feel like an almost impossible task, but bringing new actors, could bring a stronger foundation for discussions and decisions.
So, what is the purpose of a national park in a contemporary society? Is it relevant to set aside land owned publically (= belonging to the state) for recreation, adventurous tourism, scientific studies and conservation of flora and fauna, esthetical values if not all citizens have the opportunity to gain access? Should a national park pay for its existence, and if so, what is the value and how much should visitors contribute with? How much of the original landscape should be “civilized” to fit human activity? What kind of activities should be allowed and how should it be managed? These and more questions come into my mind from listening the lecture with Jane Carruthers. In a world with diminishing space for non-human beings, either they belong to the plant or the animal kingdom, we cannot wait too long to let people gain knowledge and participate in decisions about how we want to manage limited resources. Maybe, in a society with respect for both human development and our environment, more national parks, being utilized sustainable, should be created, so that we have a daily experience and reminder of where we live. Urban parks with indigenous trees for shade and heat reduction in summer, bees for fruit production and biodiversity, along with facilities giving people access to nature for understanding the reason why it is there could become reality.
And finally, a question of changing the “brand name” national park to something the has a more representative meaning, but what would that new, relevant term be?