Scientists will not save the planet, even though science might help us work out how to do it. A gathering at the Zoological Society of London last week brought together far too many scientists under the banner “Trade offs in Conservation – how do we decide what to save?” Evidence and experience from around the world on conservation planning, choices, finance, policy and the like, led to the conclusion that conservation is a social process, guided by science, not the other way round. Well, finally, thank you. Will this stop those who need irrefutable evidence (squared) before they take a decision on protecting this area or that, from standing in the way of good judgment? Talk about not seeing the wood for the trees…as we take time to count each leaf, the clock is ticking. Whole habitats are being destroyed and swathes of species lost. Could we not perhaps, just possibly, look around us and direct that brainpower more usefully?
I feel like a turncoat as I am a scientist and grateful for the body of science on climate change that has played a crucial role in waking up people and politicians to the scale of the problem we face. I just get frustrated at the pervasive default to the miniscule and the rejection of the intuitive as science is put to work in society.
By the way, the “Trade-offs” event will produce an interesting book, edited by Leader-Williams and Adams, so look out for it. One audience member described it as a “bungee jump – from the ethereal philosophy of conservation by Professor Adams to the gritty reality of conservation in conflict zones from Fauna & Flora International”. Here’s hoping that the bungee cord allows us to bounce at least halfway back and not smack into the end of the planet.