I’m an environmental ethicist and conservation scholar at Arizona State University in Tempe. 

My work grapples with two big questions: What obligations do we have toward species and wildlands in a rapidly changing and increasingly human-shaped environment?  And how can a better understanding of the American conservation tradition enhance our efforts to secure a biologically and culturally rich environmental future?  My writing is grounded in the tradition of American Pragmatism, especially its moral, scientific, and civic traditions.

I hold the Arizona Zoological Society Endowed Chair at ASU, a position originally established by the Maytag family at the time it made possible the founding of the Phoenix Zoo. I’m also a Professor in the Human Dimensions Faculty in the School of Life Sciences, a core faculty member in the Center for Biology and Society, and a Fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature (Chicago).  I teach a set of undergraduate and graduate courses in environmental ethics and the history and philosophy of conservation.


Forthcoming Book

Scores of wild species and ecosystems around the world face a variety of human-caused threats, from habitat destruction and fragmentation to rapid climate change. But there is hope, and it, too, comes in a most human form: zoos and aquariums. Gathering a diverse, multi-institutional collection of leading zoo and aquarium scientists as well as historians, philosophers, biologists, and social scientists, The Ark and Beyond traces the history and underscores the present role of these organizations as essential conservation actors. It also offers a framework for their future course, reaffirming that if zoos and aquariums make biodiversity conservation a top priority, these institutions can play a vital role in tackling conservation challenges of global magnitude.

 “In an age of extinction, ‘wild’ places are increasingly being managed like zoos. What role do actual zoos and aquariums have to play? The Ark and Beyond looks at this question from all angles; the result is both informative and thought-provoking.” —Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
The book will be published by the University of Chicago Press in early 2018.




Selected Essays & Talks

thumb_Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 12.19.47 PM_1024Article in Slate on Denmark’s Zootopia Click image to read








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Op-ed on collecting for Birdwatch magazine (UK). Click on image to read

IMG_0007 “Why Edward Abbey Still Matters” Earth Island Journal. Click image to read.    
 Mark Klett, 1988.  Ed Abbey in Grand Gulch, UT 







Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 7.57.34 AMEssay on After Preservation: Saving American Nature in the Age of Humans.  For The Conversation. Click image to read 

MikeGavinPanelDiscussionposter“Abbey’s Secret: Imaging and Imagining the Wild in the Age of Humans.” Keynote talk on Ed Abbey’s legacy for thinking about the wilderness in the Anthropocene.  Environmental History, Ecology, and Sustainability in Public Lands Symposium, April 22-23, 2015. Sponsored by the School of Global Environmental Sustainability, Colorado State University.


Screen Shot 2014-12-24 at 10.21.37 AM“Valuing Extinction in the Age of Humans,” a talk on de-extinction at the American Museum of Natural History, NYC, 10/14/14.  Event sponsored by the Center for Humans and Nature, the Hastings Center, and the AMNH Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. Click image to view  


Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 8.36.36 AMA piece in Slate (continued at the website for the Center for Humans and Nature) on the ethics of de-extinction. Click image to read

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 10.52.46 AMEssay on zoo conservation and the challenge of global biodiversity loss for The Conversation. Click image to read

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 11.03.54 AMSlate commentary on the legacy and future of the Wilderness Act in a rapidly changing world. Click image to read




Public lecture on ethics and extinction at the Chicago Botanic Garden (Center for Humans and Nature 2014 Ethics Forum). Click image to view



Header Photo: Witness to Sunrise, © Mark Klett