The case for conservation podcast


The case for conserving the biodiversity of life on Earth needs to be credible and robust. Sometimes that requires a willingness to question conventional wisdom. The case for conservation podcast features long-form conversations with conservation thinkers, in which we try to untangle issues into which they have some insight.

22. Trophy hunting: Who's to judge? (Lochran Traill)
21. How can we better understand environmental change? (Timm Hoffman)
In 1975, biologist Paul Ehrlich said that 90% of tropical rainforests would be lost by about 2005. Although their loss has continued at a steady rate, by 2019 the figure was more like 32%. Also in the 1970s, ecologist Kenneth Watt forecast a world 11 degrees colder in the year 2000. Of course, it’s been well publicized that the trend is in the opposite direction, and at a less severe pace. At a more modest scale, botanist John Acocks predicted in the 1950s that South Africa's Karoo (a desert-like area the size of present-day Germany) would expand into neighboring ecosystems, amounting to the desertification of millions of hectares of the country. As you’ll hear in today’s discussion, the Karoo in fact appears to have decreased in size. There are plenty of other examples of predictions of environmental change proving to be completely wrong. Perhaps those making the predictions didn't spend enough time looking into the past in order to forecast the future; and perhaps they didn't consult a diverse enough pool of expertise to inform their predictions.Timm Hoffman is a professor of plant conservation at the University of Cape Town (UCT) who, for decades, has used a variety of techniques to understand changes in biodiversity and landscapes. I have long admired Timm for the humility with which he approaches this subject. We talk about the methods he uses, especially repeat photography, and about the role of community engagement. And Timm argues that an interdisciplinary approach to ecology and conservation is likely to give us the best idea of what is going on. This episode is focused on southern Africa, but I’m sure you’ll find the lessons universally applicable.Links to resources:Before the Beginning: Cosmology Explained - Book on scientific thinking by UCT emeritus professor, George Ellis, which was an early inspiration for Timm.Plant Conservation Unit - The Institute that Timms heads at the University of Cape Town Re-thinking catastrophe? Historical trajectories and modelled future vegetation change in southern Africa - Paper Timm co-authored in the journal, Anthropocene, which found that evidence of the projections for the climate and vegetation of the subcontinent is so far inaccurate. Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies - The institute co-founded by Timm's collaborator, Ben Cousins, which "does research, policy engagement, teaching and training about the dynamics of chronic poverty and structural inequality in Southern Africa.Time stamps02:35: Are conservationists too confident in their assumptions about environmental change?04:40: Timm's experiences that have informed his points of view including the influence of disciplines and people outside of conservation19:04: How do communities feel about researchers?24:10: Community photo project25:38: What is repeat photography?32:20: How to define degradation or improvement in the landscape43:41: How communities help to fill knowledge gaps45:47: Loss of traditional knowledge
20. Is renewable energy better for biodiversity? (Alexandros Gasparatos)
Renewable energy is one of the great hopes of humankind when it comes to addressing the threat of climate change and some forms of pollution. Thanks to technological advances it’s now become cost-effective enough to compete with non-renewable energy sources. As renewable energy technologies and efficiency continue improving, and new innovations emerge, it’s hoped that we can make clean energy ubiquitous. But, as Thomas Sowell said, "there are no solutions - only trade-offs". The harm done by energy generation is not just about the gasses emitted during the generation process. It’s also about where renewable energy infrastructure is located; the materials that are mined and transported to build energy infrastructure; the batteries to store energy from non-baseload sources; the waste produced when energy infrastructure needs to be renewed; and, of most relevance to today’s discussion, the relative impacts of different forms of energy production on biodiversity.Alexandros Gasparatos is Associate Professor of Sustainability Science at the Institute for Future Initiatives at the University of Tokyo; and Adjunct Associate Professor at the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, also in Tokyo. He is an ecological economist interested in, among many other things, renewable energy and energy policy. In my conversation with him he makes clear above all, I think, that the relationship between energy production (from both renewable and non-renewable sources) and biodiversity is highly complex and what constitutes best solutions can be context-dependent. Time stamps:2:13   Different energy production "pathways" 3:50   What is bioenergy?6:39   How gaps in the literature inspired Alexandros to explore this area of conservation13:48   How different forms of energy production differ in terms of their impact on nature20:15   The difficulty in comparing different forms of energy production25:02   Scale mismatches, and local versus global impacts30:45   Other factors to consider, like energy security32:44   Configuration choice and other ways of reducing impact38:00   Trade-offs and context42:18   Working with stakeholders
19. Is aquaculture good or bad for the environment? (Roz Naylor)
It’s widely agreed that one of our greatest global environmental challenges is the impact of fisheries on the oceans. Aquaculture, practiced at a small scale around the world and especially in Asia for centuries, emerged decades ago as a potential solution. But it soon became clear that aquaculture was using more wild-caught fish as feed (as an input), than it was generating as product. In other words, it was making the situation even worse. However, things have changed in the way that we manage this final frontier of agricultural intensification. And this story is not all about the ocean. Mariculture - marine aquaculture - supplies more than 50% of the world’s seafood, but the freshwater aquaculture is even larger than the mariculture industry. Aquaculture is a big deal.I spoke about this subject with economist Roz Naylor, a professor of earth system science at Stanford University's Center for Food Security and the Environment. She led a seminal review to examine the "Effect of aquaculture on world fish supplies", which was published in the journal, Nature, in 2000. Twenty years later she led the publication of "A 20-year retrospective review of global aquaculture", again in Nature. Both papers took an exhaustive look at all the literature available at the time, to piece together comprehensive narratives that outlined the pros and cons; the advances and obstacles of one of humankind's most important and promising food systems, and its impact on the environment.Time stamps:2:10   What is aquaculture - what does it include?2:57   Where is most aquaculture happening?5:30   The many species used in aquaculture and how they are used.10:16  Roz’s interest in aquaculture, as an economist.12:25  How aquaculture became more sustainable, and related trade-offs20:58   Technology that has improved aquacultural production and sustainability27:53   Aquaculture species’ energy conversion efficiency29:33   The potential and limitations of "extractive species"34:57   Integrated multi-trophic aquaculture37:32   Future promise of aquaculture
18. Can we balance people's and nature's water needs? (Jenny Day)17. Are we conserving for the right reasons? (Sharachchandra Lele)
Much has been written about why we wish to protect nature. The initial motivation for conservation was ostensibly for nature's own sake. Around the 1980s, the concept of ecosystem services began to highlight  ways in which we depend on nature, as a motivation for conservation. Ecosystem services and similar concepts now dominate the discourse. But do they adequately describe our relationship with nature?Sharachchandra Lele (or Sharad, for short) is Distinguished Fellow in Environmental Policy & Governance at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment (ATREE) in Bangalore. After starting his career as an engineer, he went on to earn a PhD in Energy & Resources at UC Berkeley. Since then he has held positions as Senior Research Associate at the Pacific Institute, and fellowships or visiting fellowships at Harvard, Stanford and Cambridge Universities.Resources (linked):Nature's Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems - Seminal 1997 book edited by Gretchen Daily, to which Sharad refers in the discussion. He asked me to point out that he had mistakenly said this was by Daily and Paul Ehrlich. In fact, it builds on some earlier work by Ehrlich and others, but Ehrlich was not an author. The book focuses mostly on ecosystems' regulatory services.Millennium Ecosystem Assessment - Key assessment of "the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being" conducted from 2001 to 2005 and involving more than 1,360 experts worldwide.Untangling the Environmentalist's Paradox: Why Is Human Well-being Increasing as Ecosystem Services Degrade? - A key 2010 article in Bioscience, brought up by Sharad in our discussion.Environment and well-being: A Perspective from the Global South - A recent opinion piece that Sharad published in New Left Review, which lays out many of his views in detail.From wildlife-ism to ecosystem-service-ism to a broader environmentalism - A 2021 summary of Sharad's thoughts on ecosystem services, this time in a peer-reviewed journal.Time stamps02:46: Sharad's career change, from engineering to conservation and related topics 07:37: The nuanced and complex history of ecosystem services concepts16:26: Trade-offs between ecosystem services; ecosystem disservices23:21: How does biodiversity fit into a framework for viewing our relationship with nature?30:15: Why are human development indicators improving while environmental indicators worsen?37:40: What should be our motivation for conserving nature?48:02: Are generic frameworks really useful to describe our relationship with nature?
16. How do we cultivate enthusiasm for nature? (Steven Lowe)15. Is conservatism better for conservation? (Quill Robinson)14. How do conservationists keep going? (Widar Narvelo & Grant Pearsell)13. Does biodiversity prevent pandemics? (Dan Salkeld)12. Is hype distorting science? (Randy Schekman)11. Performative conservation: What's wrong with showing off? (Adam Welz)10. How's it going with protected areas? (Brian MacSharry)
Protected areas like nature reserves and national parks are about the most fundamental manifestation of nature conservation there is, and have existed in various forms for centuries. But are they achieving what they are meant to achieve? Does formal protection necessarily translate into biodiversity conserved?Brian MacSharry is well placed to respond to these questions. He is Head of the Biodiversity and Nature Group at the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, and former lead of the Protected Planet initiative.We refer to the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) several times. The CBD is the United Nations convention that sets much of the international biodiversity agenda. Parties (countries and the EU) to the CBD make key decisions at meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COPs) to the CBD. We refer to COP-10 in Nagoya (2010); COP 14 in Sharm El Sheikh (2018); and the upcoming COP 15 in Kunming. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets are a set of global targets that emerged from COP-10 as part of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which will be superseded by the post-2020 global biodiversity framework at COP-15.09:28: What constitutes a protected area?15:52: How much of the planet is protected? 15:52: Usefulness of the protected areas concept without an international standard to guide it26:12: Are protected areas protecting biodiversity where it most needs protecting?36:07: Difference between protected areas and "other effective conservation measures" (OECMs)43:28: Differences between terrestrial and marine protected areas49:54: Impact of protected areas on communities
9. Is there still racial discrimination in conservation? (Gillian Burke)8. How can indigenous & local knowledge complement biodiversity science? (Zsolt Molnár)7. Are alien species always a net negative? (Martin Schlaepfer)6. Why should cities play a bigger role in conservation? (Debra Roberts)5. Is nature conservation being too conservative? (Michelle Marvier)4. Who'd want to choose conservation as a career? (Nick Askew)3. Are we getting conservation right in developing countries? (Mao Amis)