The following are my five top half-truths of nature conservation. What do you think – have I got these right? Which have I missed out?
Think global – act local. This one drives me mad – not because it is completely wrong but because it is rarely completely right but is trotted out as a mantra. Thinking global is pretty good, and acting local is pretty good, but there are plenty of your global thoughts that might be better solved by acting globally. Take climate change just as an example – lots of local actions might help (altering your personal carbon emissions through lifestyle choices) but you get a bit stuck if you want to build a windfarm in your garden – or even a nuclear power station. And what we need is concerted action across the world led by governments, churches or anyone else. We might just as well say ‘Think global – act global’ or even ‘think local – act global’, or maybe ‘Think – act’ or maybe we could get away with ‘Act!’
What we need is a bit more research. Speaking as a scientist by training, I am hugely in favour of knowing your subject very well. But there is a tide, in the affairs of men, when you have a good enough idea of what you should do and the time has come to do it. This tide is often missed and the rushing water is disspated in the shallows of ‘more research’. It’s a favourite ploy of government to ask for more research to buy more time and to postpone action. And it can be done at any level, I expect I have done it as a manager too, but you have to ask yourself ‘Will this (costly?) research really help me make a decision – or should the nettle be grasped now?’
- We’re all on the same side really. I don’t believe I have ever said this (but maybe I have), but it has been said to me many times and I haven’t often said ‘No we aren’t – you are the enemy!’ (but sometimes I have thought it). If, in a world of NFUS farmers calling for White-tailed Eagles to be sorted out, NFU Presidents saying that there aren’t any pressing environmental issues any more, Hen Harriers persecuted to within inches of English extirpation, the SoS at Defra suggesting that ancient woodland could be offset by new planting and the PM talking of ‘green cr*p’, you think we are all on the same side really you must be mad. No, there are friends of the earth as well as FoE and there are foes of the Earth too. Yes, it is confusing that ‘foes’ is quite a similar word to ‘friends’, and that some of the foes are jolly nice chaps – nicer chaps than sometimes are the chaps on our own side. But that’s because this is the real world rather than a cowboy film where the goodies shave more cleanly, have lighter clothes, whiter horses and shinier teeth than the baddies! Get real! We are not all on the same side.
- Nature conservation shouldn’t be a party political issue. This is like saying that education shouldn’t be a political issue (it’s too important – we all care about our children), or the NHS (it’s too important – we all care about sick people). Nature conservation should be a more political issue and we need to ignite politicians with a burning fire of passion about the natural world (or a healthy worry about our voting intentions will do as a substitute). If only nature conservation were a political issue! If only the PM and Leader of the Opposition were rated, partly, on how well they argued about whether the loss of farmland birds mattered at all and which is the political party with the best solution for their restoration! If only!
- We must invest in the next generation. Clearly we must, but only because they will be grown-ups with economic power and influence in time. If we are always going to delay solving the problems of today because we concentrate on educating the decision-makers and consumers of tomorrow then we are always going to fail. I’d rather have some influence on David and/or Samantha Cameron today than on all their children and their children’s schoolmates. When the enemy is at the gate you pick up your weapons rather than investing training your children to fight when they grow up. Nature is facing a crisis now and needs help now, and that means influencing powerful people now.
As I say, these are half-truths often trotted out as cliches. I bet you can think of some more.
Now I come to think of it, I think they are more like quarter-truths than half-truths – but they are partly true and partly false. The key thing is spotting which you are dealing with each time.