Conservation: are you in it for the long run?

Conservation: a marathon, not a sprint? pic from

Yesterday I had a discussion with a friend who felt overwhelmed about the peril that nature, and biodiversity are in, and sceptical about the use of biodiversity offsets as a mechanism to deal with some of it. The ecological crisis is deepening[1] as we sleep, eat and breathe, and most of the threatening factors seem only to be amplifying and expanding… habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation; exotic species invasions, pollution; climate change; overhunting; and overpopulation combined with unsustainable consumption. What did I think? I’m interested in the long term.

Last week, I met a wise man who’s son worked with the United Nations in the Middle East. His manager was the world-famous social rights activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (and countless others), Desmond Tutu. Their mission was to promote an end to the conflicts and create peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

After some time on the job, this man’s son approached Desmond Tutu and told him that he could no longer work there. He was overwhelmed by the difficulty of the mission. As he came to understand the complexity of the conflicts, how deeply entrenched and multi-layered, and wicked[2] the problems were, he lost faith in the mission’s hopes of promoting peace. As an Israeli who has lived through some of the conflicts and who has taken a keen interest in trying to figure out what went wrong and what we can do about it, I sorely empathized.

And so did Desmond, but he had a larger lens to look through. ‘I like to think of the timeframe for our mission as being five thousand years. We may not achieve peace this year, or even in fifty years, but I think we have a chance over the next 5000’.

These cute creatures wreak havoc on native mammal, reptile and bird populations. Predation by feral cats (along with foxes), is a key threatening process under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. And they are almost impossible to eradicate. Photograph taken by motion-sensor camera © Keren Raiter, October 2012.

Which brings us back to the ecological crisis, and the other crises unfolding around us[3]. There is plenty to worry about, and solutions are not being applied as quickly, or as well, as they could be, where they exist at all.

But we must appreciate how far we’ve come. Environmental practices across the globe have in most cases improved, and in many cases transformed altogether. Governments now have a suite of laws providing some sort of protection to parts of the environment; something that was unheard of only 200 years ago. Mining practices are far more considerate for the environment than they were even 50 years ago.

Disregarding political and economic fluctuations, there is far more interest and impetus (and money) for conservation in the area now than there was even 100 years ago, from governments, NGOs, the private sector, and philanthropists. In some areas (such as the Great Western Woodlands), the indigenous people are more empowered and closer to gaining recognition of native title and contributing to conservation than they were only 50 years ago (albeit still shockingly less they were 2000 years ago). And offsets? they’re far from perfect, but at least they’re on the table, unlike just 30 years ago. And in 500 years (or perhaps sooner) we may get them right.

Looking beyond this year, the next election, the latest buzzword for ‘saving the earth’; beyond my lifetime and yours… there will be something there in 5000 years time; and we play a part in determining what it will be.

[1] eg: World leaders failed to deliver on commitments made in 2002 to reduce the global rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, and have instead overseen alarming biodiversity declines (

[2] eg the article discusses wicked problems

[3] actually this post was inspired by a challenging discussion I had with a friend about something they saw as being a major crisis, and that I saw as difficult, but good in the long run.

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1 Response to Conservation: are you in it for the long run?

  1. Mandy says:

    Thanks for your positive view Keren – I agree that we shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the depth of our problems (something I have fallen victim to in the past) and we need to strive to do our best in the present for the long long long term future.

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