Conservation: You’re doing it wrong

The opinions stated in this article are the author’s own.

This article is in response to an article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 14 December 2013.
Source: or click here.

Tasked with trying to save almost 1000 threatened plant and animal species in NSW, the O’Farrell government is undertaking a version of “conservation triage” where scarce funding will target species with the best chance of survival.
Spending priorities will be ranked according to a cold calculus: the benefit of intervening to save a species, multiplied by the likelihood of success, divided by the cost.

Firstly, I’d just like to say this: If you are in a triage situation, you are in a war. And the other side is winning.

Let’s just analyse the situation here from an external perspective. The only reason there is scarce funding, is because the government doesn’t allocate it, unlike what appears to be unlimited funding to subsidise the fossil fuel industry. So the formula is flawed from the start because funding to save threatened species is not limited. It is only limited by political expediency within the government.

Next, the formula itself is flawed because it does not include a key variable (ecosystem services) and is too vague to be useful:
the benefit of intervening to save a species, multiplied by the likelihood of success, divided by the cost.

I guarantee that ‘benefit’ in the NSW government’s mind, is ‘political benefit’ not ‘ecosystem services benefit’. This is clearly demonstrated that what will get funding is in the ‘cute and cuddly’ range. If you added ecosystem services in, some earthworms might be more worth preserving than some bludging koala that eats leaves all day.

‘Success’ is not defined either, and I humbly submit that having a couple of breeding pairs hanging about in a zoo is not success. That is failure.

And exactly what is the cost to my unborn grandchildren of not having these species on earth? To go to Christmas Island and to hear only silence where before the air was full of the calls of the tiny pipistrelle bat?

Hugh Possingham says in the article: “It’s not any different from running any other business,” … “Everybody in the world, every day, is doing a cost-effective analysis.

With respect Hugh, you’re doing it wrong. You are all doing it wrong. You are all perpetuating an economic system which does nothing but harm to the planet and by extension, to ourselves.

We need to be doing everything differently. We need to change how the whole economic and political system works. And this is not about communism or lefty ideology. This is about survival. Of all of us. And by ‘us’ I mean every damn species on this tiny blue ball. Every single one is worth preserving. Every single one.

I do not accept your ranking system. Apply it to humans and you soon get fascism – some people are worth preserving and some aren’t. It’s a slippery slope to a very nasty place.

I do not accept your economic argument. Sometimes the most effective things that people can do to preserve a piece of their environment do not cost any money at all. It requires us to refrain from doing something. To not spend the money on the new shopping mall, but to stick with what we have. To not chase after material possessions that don’t make us happy anyway.

I do not accept you and your slippery politics. If you really wanted to save threatened species, you would fund on-ground action instead of yet another plan which wastes trees and allows these precious gems of DNA to slip through our fingers forever. Having worked in the on-ground part of the environment sector for many years, I know whereof I speak. I know the slimy caveats you put on funding. I know all about the consultation round-a-bout which produces yet another plan every 10 years and does nothing practical. And let’s be clear, when I say ‘you’ I mean every politician who thinks that money is more important than the pipistrelle.

The fact is, our economic and political system is failing us badly. It is rotten at the core. Time for a new paradigm.