This post is about a paper we’ve just had accepted and has come out online in Biological Conservation called Strange bedfellows? Techno-fixes to solve the big conservation issues in southern Asia - and it’s likely to piss off a few people, and hopefully motivate others.
We wrote the paper for a special issue of essays dedicated to the memory of our mate and colleague, Navjot Sodhi, who died earlier this year. The issue hasn’t been released yet, but we have managed to get our paper out well before.
Like Navjot, the paper is controversial. Also like Navjot, we hope it challenges a few minds and pushes a few boundaries. We, as conservation biologists, must accept the fact that we have largely failed – biodiversity is still being lost at an alarming rate despite decades and decades of good science, sound evidence-based policy recommendations and even some rescues of species on the ‘brink’. Huge consumption rates, a population of 7 billion humans and counting, carbon emissions exceeding all worst-case scenarios, and greater disparity of wealth distribution have all contributed to this poor performance.
So what else can we do?
It’s not enough for us to sit back and say ‘Well, we’ve studied most systems, and we know what we need to do in terms of species conservation (and the ecosystem services they provide’) – it’s up to ‘society’ now to implement them.” This simply won’t happen.
We therefore require a vastly upgraded approach to species conservation that goes well outside of the box, and that approach must at least admit, and then explicitly address, the need for vast amounts of emissions-free electrical energy.
For the predominance of fossil fuel-based energy is the root of all [conservation] evil – vast amounts of power are required to grow our food (think of the petrol/diesel alone needed to run the machinery and then distribute the food around the world), transport our goods, recycle our wastes, supply us with water, etc. And what’s the principal determinant of species loss? It’s agricultural expansion that ends up cutting down all the forests and polluting our water courses.
Thus, without power, our societies essentially come to a halt. If the source of all this power supply happens to produce emissions that result in a rapid cooking (or a clearing for biofuels) of our ecosystems, we need to switch to alternatives. We argue that unless we open up the power-supply market to ALL forms of GHG emission-free generation, we’re screwed, and biodiversity will continue to gurgle down the toilet. This means a healthy, global embrace of nuclear energy is required, even though it can’t address all problems. So-called ‘renewable’ technologies just won’t provide enough energy to supply our needs until it is far too late.
So, we encourage people to keep an open mind on the subject, and consider the alternatives. Sure, some people will die if we wholeheartedly embrace nuclear energy, but many, many, many more will die if we don’t (e.g., from climate change-related deaths, reduction in food-producing capacity, direct deaths from coal mining, etc.), and biodiversity will suffer disproportionately.
Want some more information on the benefits of nuclear energy? Read Barry’s blog.