The Heart of Conservation

Conservation issues are the result of human impact, therefore without people, conservation wouldn’t exist. People are the heart of conservation.

Conservation is about finding solutions to problems that are caused by human attitudes and behaviours. If what we’re doing is the problem, then we hold the keys to the solutions. Conservation is also about compromise, balancing the needs of human communities with the needs of other species. It is also about acknowledging our place in nature, celebrating it and understanding that we do have an impact on the environment. We must believe that we can find solutions to benefit both our and other species.

Where do people fit in?

Modern day conservation is more mindful of the role people play in conservation, both as the source of conservation problems and as the keys to conservation solutions. This human role is termed the human or social dimension of conservation. Sarah Thomas, Head of Discovery and Learning at the Zoological Society London, believes that this dimension should factor in social science research, social interventions and social practices. Research in these areas help to build a social map of the conservation issue and brings answers to questions such as “Who is doing what?”, “Why are they doing it?” and “What are their thoughts and feelings?”. It is important to see conservation issues through the personal, societal and cultural lens so that social interventions such as conservation education programmes or community based social marketing campaigns can be planned, delivered and evaluated well.

Important Statistics for Conservation

Of the 75,000 species assessed by the IUCN Red List (by end 2014), 20,000 species have been listed as threatened (classed as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered)

The 2014 Living Planet Index tracks trends of over 3000 species of vertebrates (mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish). Between 1972 and 2010, the populations have decreased by 52%.

Globally, nature’s assets have been valued at $125 trillion per year.

Note: All statistics here are what I have learnt from the Introduction to Conservation course from National Geographic.

Choosing What to Conserve

It breaks my heart to think that we have to triage species to save. The video lesson from the Introduction to Conservation Course said that we have to decide which ones to save because “conservation operates under limited resources”. There are not enough resources to save all the species. I cannot help but wonder whether this is actually true.

Putting a Monetary Value on Ecosystem Services

Valuing nature is about showing the importance of nature to human well-being, business and the economy, so that nature’s value can be factored into decisions. Ecosystem services are worth a large amount of money and a vast array of benefits. Here are some examples of the value of ecosystem services. Losing just 1 km of mangrove land in Thailand can increase flood damage by half a million dollars per square kilometre. In Costa Rica, natural forest based pollinators increase coffee yields by 20%.

In Australia, strong cultural and spiritual ties to certain areas have protected them from mining which would have allowed for extraction of very valuable minerals. Therefore besides monetary valuations, valuing Nature based on its social and cultural value can help preserve it.

Despite wide value, nature is commonly overlooked and undervalued in decisions, therefore many ecosystems are lost and degraded. Money is not everything, but is a good common language to help others understand the value of nature. It is important to remember though that some areas are difficult to put a value on. For example, cultural services cannot be easily translated into monetary terms. Valuation can also be challenging, because ecosystems are complex, therefore monetary valuations of nature are usually conservative.

I don’t agree with putting a price on everything because I believe Nature IS intrinsically valuable. However I feel that many people around me are disconnected from Nature and do not understand it’s importance. Therefore I can see how putting a monetary value on nature can help conserve it, as money is a common language that people understand. Besides valuing Nature economically, it should also be valued socially to help us understand the full implications of the choices that we make. This will help us look at the longer-term benefits of people and the economy instead of making short-term decision just based on financial interests. The former sort of argument would more likely persuade governments and businesses to take better care of the natural world so that it can continue to sustain us all in future.

What Climate Change Means to Me

Climate change means that some species of animals, even iconic ones like the polar bear, are going to become extinct. It also means that certain plant species are going to disappear. This is because the change in climate makes their habitats unable able to support them and unlike humans, they can’t just hop on a plane and fly somewhere that is more suitable for them.

Climate change means that poorer populations around the world, especially ones who live a long the coast, will lose their homes due to rising sea levels or suffer from the effects of extreme weather.

Climate change means that the world is going to become an increasingly unstable and unpredictable place for everyone. As climates change and food and water sources become affected, people may start fighting over the places that have these resources. I don’t know whether this will actually materialise, but more immediately, I think prices for basic resources will go up.

Climate change means that future generations will inherit an earth that is not as beautiful or hospitable as the one I grew up in or have had the fortune of experiencing.

What is conservation?

The natural world is essential for our survival. Nature provides us with air, water, food and medicine which is what we need to survive. However, the reason why we have been lax in protecting her is because we have become disconnected from nature and have stopped thinking about where out air, food, water and medicine come from.

As mentioned above, we simply cannot do without the natural world. But beside that, the natural world gives us a sense of wonder and is filled with awe-inspiring natural beauty. Just imagine the world without amazing places like the Great Barrier Reef and Amazon Forests, or species like the polar bear or pangolin.

Conservation is about protecting and preserving the natural world. We do this not only because we need the natural world to survive, but also because the natural world is inherently beautiful and was around before we were / has it’s own right to exist. We preserve the natural world to ensure equitable access to critical natural resources, such as food, water, and air, for future generations.

Conservation also involves sustainable development and stabilising economies. We cannot dictate to others and we especially cannot tell poorer people how they should be living. To carry out conservation, people all around the world will need to work together and come up with innovative solutions that will benefit us all.

Embarking on a conservation journey

“What’s my life purpose?” This question has plagued me for the longest time. Like, really really plagued me…

I’ve read books, journaled for hours, done all sorts of personality tests, attended countless courses for different things and listened to numerous podcasts of different “experts” to try and answer that one question. And one morning this year, while I had some quiet time to think about a project I could work on that would bring my interests and skills together, the answer came to me. I want to save wildlife.

I want to say that this realisation was like the existential dark clouds of “I don’t know what to do with my life” parted and a massive golden ray of sunshine burst forth to illuminate my path forward, but it wasn’t like that at all. It was just a quiet, ‘something clicked’ kinda thing. Like I could suddenly line up the stories of my life.

Stuff like: I spent a lot of my time as a kid watching wildlife documentaries. I refused to eat sharks fin soup at family gatherings and weddings. I made my classmates throw their used paper into a cardboard box so I could bring it to the petrol station where the recycling bins were. I wanted to study zoology in uni (but didn’t because dad said I’d have no where else to work but the zoo). I chose teaching because I figured it wasn’t something that was very polluting.

So now I’m on my path to explore conservation. I’ve enrolled in a National Geographic course called “Introduction to Conservation” and will be blogging about my learning in the days to come, so do check back from time to time if you’d like to know what I’ve learnt.