Book Review: Conservation, Biodiversity and International Law

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Alexander Gillespie, Conservation, Biodiversity and International Law (2011). Edward Elgar Publishing (EE). ISBN: 0857935151; Hardcover $225.00, 624 pages (inclusive of the index).

According to the author, a prominent international scholar and professor at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, this is a book about “law”; however, it is also a book about “science,” “philosophy” and “policy.”  After negotiating this behemoth of a text, it is safe to say that it does deal with all of these topics (to a greater or lesser extent), but what this work is actually about is international environmental history.  While extremely valuable in its own right, this text should probably be avoided by any but the most enthusiastic aficionados of environmental law.

As an environmental law librarian, I am constantly confronted with students experiencing “enviro-overload” – a term I use to describe that pained look on their faces when they are attempting not to drown in the green regulatory haze that is environmental law.  Gillespie’s work will contribute to that pained expression primarily because of the author’s dense prose and the book’s somewhat redundant organization.  Nonetheless, Gillespie does a masterful job of contextualizing the issues characteristic of international conservation law, and his foundational chapters in particular clearly highlight the inherent difficulties of the subject.      

Gillespie’s work is organized (along the lines of a textbook) into four distinct parts.  Part One (chapters 2 through 4) sets forth the basics of the field, including species identification, threat classifications and their perceptions in law, politics and science.  Part Two (chapters 5 and 6) surveys the tangible and intangible benefits of biodiversity from both an anthropocentric and biocentric point of view.  Part Three (chapters 7 through 13) constitutes the bulk of this text, and examines in detail threats to species and protected areas, continuing with a discussion of current conservation efforts.  Part Four concludes with a brief discussion about the ‘tools’ that are in place to effectuate the conservation goals of the international community.

The following features should be of particular use to researchers: footnotes at the bottom of each page; a chronological list of international conservation treaties dating back to 1858; a fairly comprehensive index; and a list of commonly used international abbreviations.  Gillespie’s text would have been enhanced by an appendix of excerpted international primary source materials or an online companion website.

Taryn L. Rucinski, Environmental Law Librarian, Pace Law School

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