The goal of our Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) Europe Section Blog is to share stories and relevant information about activities going on within our section and more broadly in the conservation community. Stories and articles shared on our blog should not be taken as an official position or statement of SCB or SCB Europe Section. Thank you for reading!

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Can conservation science alone save the planet?

Guest Post by Ewa Orlikowska

Conservation science recognizes the tight coupling of social and natural systems; for conservation to be fully successful, poverty must be addressed, but is it enough? What about our increasingly polarized societies? Is there still time to reverse ecosystem collapse or stop the human-driven sixth mass extinction? What if Stephen Hawking is right in giving humanity only 100 years to find a new planet, because we will not survive without escaping beyond our fragile Earth?

Degrowth principles and the doughnut of social and planetary boundaries concepts may guide us in providing for the human race without over-stressing the Earth’s life-support systems. We must act now and the actions need to be simultaneous, multilateral and bottom-up with citizen involvement applying Aldo Leopold’s land ethic that ‘…changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.’ Conservation must be incorporated into education and everyday life; the way we eat, travel, and consume needs to be sustainable to bring about social and environmental justice.

Some believe that scientists possess the “magic wand” giving them an extraordinary power to save the planet. With 7.4 billion of us inhabiting the Earth and researchers accounting for merely 0.1% of the global population, it seems highly infeasible. We all need to take responsibility for the state of our environment and act together on its behalf.

Many small steps add up – grow your own garden instead of maintaining a green lawn; compost, recycle, pick up street litter, walk and bicycle as opposed to driving, repair and reuse, wear plastic-free clothes, improve wildlife habitat in your area, eat organic - less meat and more plants, reduce plastic waste, support fossil-fuel-free technologies, be conscientious citizen and consumer. Look into the past for solutions for the future such as the consumption levels of our grandparents. Get involved in your local community – spread the conscientious lifestyle by example, educate your neighbors, friends and family. 

As one of the Student Conference on Conservation Science, University of Cambridge, 2017 (#SCCS2017) plenary speakers, Brendan Fisher taught us, we need to address each individual’s identity in framing our questions and approaches. For instance, the environmental aspects of palm oil plantations, such as deforestation of regions with the highest levels of biodiversity on Earth (Indonesia and Malaysia), may not impact the consumer decision of my 74-year-old mother, but the health risks its consumption imposes due to its high content of saturated fat long linked to heart disease will do.

As scientists, we must devote more time and effort to communication of scientific findings to the public; we must build bridges, educate, and reach out in order to break the ‘bubble’ encapsulating us from the society. Perhaps, we enclosed in the “ivory tower” of academia focus too much on pursuing our own careers, publishing another paper or improving our h-index. What we scientists consider common knowledge among ourselves is often unknown, misunderstood or misinterpreted by the public or politicians. We need to make our knowledge accessible to fellow citizens, we need to lead and encourage civic participation and dialogue processes in nature conservation, management and sustainability. There is so much to be done and so little time left. But we need to remember ‘Yes we can’!

The 2017 SCCS in Cambridge provided numerous examples of successful evidence-based conservation projects, giving us a sense of optimism (#earthoptimism). What struck me the most was that many projects were not just about publishing another paper or obtaining a degree, but about bringing a real change to the world around us – saving one more tapir from being run over in Costa Rica or another bat from collision with wind farm in Poland, to name just two. The SCCS 2017 yielded extraordinary inspiration and empowerment. As many of the 183 participants from 59 counties showed, ‘Every individual in this world can make a difference, and we can go out there and we can actually achieve our dreams’ (Carl Jones, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust).

Resources used:

1. Lindenmayer et al. 2017.; 2. Williams et al. 2015.; 3. Holley 2017.; 4. Raworth 2017.; 5. Leopold, A. 1989. A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There.; 6. Unites States Census Bureau 2017. U.S. and World Population Clock,; 7. UNESCO 2017. Facts and figures: human resources. From the UNESCO Science Report, Towards 2030.; 8. The Zoological Society of London. 2017. SPOTT. Sustainable Palm Oil Transparency Toolkit. Environmental impacts.; 9. Harvard Medical School. 2017. Harvard Health Publications. By the way, doctor: Is palm oil good for you?; 10. The New York Times. 2008. Barack Obama’s New Hampshire Primary Speech.; 11. Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust,


Ewa Orlikowska is a PhD student at the School for Forest Management, Faculty of Forest Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Her  doctoral research focuses on large scale biodiversity conservation in forested habitats, especially on the European network of protected areas Natura 2000. You can connect with Ewa on Twitter: @ewa_orlikowska

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