On Friday, as on Saturday, I was on a panel with Tony Juniper. This time it was the first AFON conference in Cambridge.
We, with Matt Shardlow from Buglife and Donal McCarthy (RSPB), chatted around valuation of nature. If you don’t put a value on it, is it equivalent to valuing it as worthless? If you do put a monetary value on nature then can nature conservation be outbid?
It’s a very tricky subject and I vacillate on it – I always have. I think it is horses for courses but that may seem like wimping out.
There were interesting discussions about whether science should have the last word in nature conservation. The answer is, I think, yes, sometimes! Don’t I sound indecisive?! Science can’t tell you much about what you want in life – has science ever told you who to love? But it can tell you about how to get it. Science should have had the last word in the design of effective agri-environment schemes in England (rather than, it seemed, the NFU) and then we would have ones that actually deliver well for the vast amount of taxpayers’ money that go into them. If you want to conserve Asian vultures, as Debbie Pain said, you need to know why they are declining to solve the problem (please sign this e-petition to stop such declines in Europe too).
It’s funny – I think it’s funny – that we call this stuff conservation science rather than conservation technology or conservation engineering. The thing is that everyone wants to rely on science because it sounds important and clever. But science is really a way of thinking and a way of elucidating the universe’s hidden truths. Much of what most of us who are called scientists do is much more everyday and mundane – but important.
And decision-makers, all decision-makers, including you, use science as a drunk uses a lamp-post – more for support than illumination. Decision-makers are looking for a respectable reason to take a course of action that they have determined for a wide variety of reasons – science can add that respectability sometimes. Most decisions are made for a whole variety of reasons – popularity, ease, cheapness, to make someone happy, to spite someone else and because they will work. Science only helps with a few of those reasons. The most important decisions you made in your life, such as who to marry or which house to live in, were made for a galaxy of reasons. You weren’t completely rational about them – or were you? Why should any other human decisions be made according to different rules? And even if you think they should be – get over it! They aren’t!
There was another interesting discussion into which I dipped about how to get a job in nature conservation. The answer is, generally speaking, the same as it has ever been – be more attractive to an employer than anyone else. You have to be the best, or at least appear to be, to get any job. Which interview panel ever came out and said ‘You seemed the third-best candidate so we have decided to give you the job’? That’s all there is to it.
Giving out jobs is a buyers market – they pay you to do things for them so they get to choose you, not you them. Try this website as one place to get some good hints, read this Guest Blog and read this interview with me for some more ideas. And, good luck!
I would have liked to stay for the Saturday – but I was heading for the Green Party conference in Birmingham. Congratulations to Lucy McRobert and Matt Adam Williams (and lots of others, no doubt) for organising this first AFON conference.