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We really have a problem of incentives

So it’s been a day since I started this blog and not surprisingly, I haven’t got a visit. I guess conservation is not really the most popular topic on today’s internet, being another problem that conservation faces.

Conservation can be a lot of fun, but it is not generally regarded as ‘cool’ and the same happens with any good cause. While things like planting threes, recycling and helping people in need are known as ‘good’, the general public constantly chooses to leave the work for others. I’m one of those others, and while I’d like to do more than I do, sometimes I just can’t.

The very first problem that many conservationists would mention is the lack of funding. I agree that especially in this economic crisis conservation funding has got scarce. But I wonder what my colleagues would do if they get the insane amounts of money they think they need. I personally have been in the situation when you don’t see how to spend the funds you already got. It’s easy to burn the money, but putting it on good use is a whole different story.

If you haven’t found a solution to a problem, it doesn’t matter how much money you do have, it will worth nothing. Unfortunately, many conservationists seek funds for the sake of funds, aiming to be able to pay their bills instead of having a meaningful conservation impact. We have the bad incentive to attract funds to where we work instead of letting them go to where we know they are better needed, and to constantly bend the truth in order to get them. When actually solving a problem will make you lose your job, it is not surprise that many “problems” are simply made up and not real solutions are ever found. Why would anyone kill their cash cow? We really have a problem of incentives here. In practice is not rare that some “professional” conservationist actually hurt the biodiversity by diverting funds from where they would be useful.

But conservation needs money, so If you have the opportunity to support a conservation project just make sure it is led by a truly passionate conservationist. When they don’t make their personal money from conservation it can be a good sign. Most conservation organizations have an ad honorem board of directors.

Lack of funds may be a problem, but money availability posses another problem that is not frequently acknowledged. Good news is that we can help both by donating to carefully selected initiatives.

Our impact on conservation

Many trained conservationist I know have developed a strange sixth sense by which they are constantly aware of the impact their actions have on biodiversity, whether they are good or bad. For example, some of them are very quick on determining the course of action a given project should take to actually change the fate of a species. They are always filled with new ideas and pretty easily develop proposals to get the funding they need. This is because they are very good in predicting the impact a given action would have.

The same acts in a different direction. They can quickly think on ways a simple action could result in detriment of the biodiversity (and humanity), and they act accordingly. This is the kind of person that we’ll never see leaving a light on, or driving an oversized car. It is not a sort of compulsive disorder; it is just that sometime on their lives they got aware of how their little decisions can affect the world we live in. After that, it is the most basic logic what guides their behavior, for them some decisions have become an instinct.

But most people are not trained ecologists. What conservationists face is trying to get people that don’t see or don’t care about this “big picture” to change their behavior. Yes, we collectively got to do something if we want other species to survive the next 1000 years. Not only it is difficult to reach everyone to show them how they contribute to species extinction, but undoubtedly there will be people that will refuse to acknowledge that preserving biodiversity is actually important.

But I can guess most of my readers are aware that for any action there’s a reaction, and this reaction somewhat somewhere is on biodiversity. But these reactions can be good or bad which gives the opportunity for all to be a conservationist. So what do we conservationists can do? For me the answer is rather simple:

-          Extinguish the fire. Find the way for everyone to change their way of living so we attain sustainability.

-          Play with the fire. Design and support active conservation actions so we can keep “improving” our way or living while maintaining biodiversity.

-          Pray for a miracle.

I wonder how much the general public actually cares about conservation, so it appears that there’s a long way to go if we want to extinguish the fire. Let’s face it, there’s a limit we all have to what we are willing to do in favor of conservation. What would be the ultimate solution? a massive suicide? so to completely extinguish the fire is not viable, nor necessary, but we should do something to reduce the flame.

So after reducing the flame as much as we think is enough, we should deal with the rest of our impact. For the most regular people what they can easily do is to start supporting conservation causes. By doing this, some expert conservationist will actively work either teaching the public how to reduce the flame, or will do something to prevent a species from getting extinct. These conservation actions can range from breeding an endangered species in captivity to manage a network of protected areas.

So there’s much that anyone can do to be a conservationist. Trough this blog I’ll share my thoughts hoping to inspire more people to join us on this journey. Thanks for reading!

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