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.
18. Can we balance people's and nature's water needs? (Jenny Day)
Freshwater biodiversity tends to be the most threatened of all types of biodiversity. In this episode I speak with Jenny Day about the state of freshwater biodiversity in South Africa's drought-prone Southwestern Cape, and elsewhere in the world. We get into how it coexists with humankind’s need for water.
Jenny is emeritus professor of freshwater ecology at the University of Cape Town, where she was also Director of the Freshwater Research Unit for many years. She has co-authored the book Vanishing Waters and, more recently, Freshwater Life: A field guide to the plants and animals of southern Africa, as well as numerous papers and research reports on various aspects of river and wetland ecology.
01:30: Why Jenny decided on career in freshwater ecology
04:40: Why freshwater ecologists end up being involved in management and policy
11:20: The state of freshwater biodiversity
15:36: Threats to freshwater biodiversity
18:15: Water needs of communities, and dealing with Cape Town's two-year drought
28:00: Invasive trees
31:20: Virtual water
35:05: Adapting agriculture to be water-smart
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.
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.
02:46: Sharad's career change, from engineering to conservation and related topics
07:37: The nuanced and complex history of ecosystem services concepts
16:26: Trade-offs between ecosystem services; ecosystem disservices
23:21: 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)
People from various walks of life have an affinity to nature. Why is that, and why is nature important to us? This episode is less of an inquiry and more of a ramble through this topic, with one of the most nature-loving, inspiring and interesting people I know.
Steven Lowe is is a high school science teacher in the UK. But he started as a cardiovascular cell biology researcher, after earning his PhD in that subject. In between those two sub-careers he spent more than 10 years studying and working in conservation biology - mostly in South Africa - where we met doing our Masters degrees in that subject.
02:12: How Steve chose a successful career in cardiovascular cell biology, and left it for conservation
11:11: The importance of biodiversity conservation relative to climate change action
16:08: Moral and practical arguments for conservation
18:03: Trade-offs, consequences and opportunities
25:46: Political conviction about improving conservation
28:39: Why are YouTube "freak animal clips" so popular?
31:48: Young people’s interest in nature
35:23: The influence of inspiring individuals
40:36: The influence of spending time in nature
15. Is conservatism better for conservation? (Quill Robinson)
Why has environmentalism come to be considered a left-wing agenda, even though much of its history has conservative roots? And what does it even mean to be conservative when it comes to conservation and environmental issues?
Quill Robinson has some ideas about this. He is Vice President of Government Affairs for the American Conservation Coalition, and spends much of his time in Congress advocating for what he considers pragmatic, bipartisan policy solutions to environmental challenges. He turned conservative after witnessing the defeat of one such policy solution by progressive organizations early in his career.
02:18: How Quill changed political perspectives early in his career
09:04: What it means to be a conservative in the environmental sphere
12:15: Why is environmentalism thought of as a leftist agenda?
16:06: Why market-based approaches?
21:23: Incremental change versus transformative change
26:50: Unleashing innovation
32:27: The importance of local solutions and feeling like we can make a difference
35:33: The argument against environmental catastrophism
38:20: A culture shift towards steadfastness against adversity
14. How do conservationists keep going? (Widar Narvelo & Grant Pearsell)
Most conservationists are motivated by the purpose of their work. But that work often involves a lot of struggle and it can be daunting, especially when one does not yet have the experience of hard-won success to draw inspiration from. So, how do we keep going when the odds seem stacked against us?
Grant Pearsell and Widar Narvelo both recently retired from decades-long, pioneering careers in urban conservation - Widar at the City of Helsingborg in Sweden and Grant at the City of Edmonton in Canada. In this discussion they share some of the wisdom and experience they have gathered over their lifelong work.
1:33: How Widar and Grant chose careers in conservation
6:15: Conservation goals compared with broader institutional goals
12:53: Most difficult career challenges
17:16: Ecosystem services as a tool, or not
19:04: Most rewarding career achievements
24:27: Changes in public and institutional attitude over time
26:11: Importance of integration into broader planning
28:04: Communicating conservation with non-conservation language
31:11: Advice to conservationists who feel they are struggling against the odds
13. Does biodiversity prevent pandemics? (Dan Salkeld)
There is a lot in the media these days about how protecting biodiversity reduces the risk of zoonotic disease spillover, and hence the risk of epidemics and pandemics. There seems to be a lot of good evidence for this in published studies on the topic, but how universal is such a conclusion? What is the science behind it? What about context? Are there exceptions to the rule?
Dan Salkeld is a disease ecologist, and professor at Colorado State University. He has been addressing this topic in the literature for years, and shares some of his conclusions with us. We also talk a little more broadly about the trend, in the literature, towards making generic causal links, when the sum of the data show correlations of varying strength, and include exceptions.
03:10: Main factors likely to increase the risk of zoonotic disease spillover
05:08: Relationship between biodiversity and spillover risk; the dilution effect and amplification effect
12:32: The role of scale in spillover
13:55: The state of the debate regarding the links between biodiversity and spillover
18:18: Claims of causation and consensus
22:34: Results that don't get published
26:09: Communicating nuanced messages to the broader public