Mucking around the edges

8 11 2011

Barry Brook over at beat me to the punch regarding our latest paper, so I better get off my arse and write my take on things.

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.

CJA Bradshaw



14 responses

16 07 2018
Restoring Optimism - Conservation Optimism

[…] interventions to restore all habitats and biodiversity. Focusing on solutions, rather than simply documenting declines, is a practical way in which we can make conservation change […]


11 08 2014
We generally ignore the big issues |

[…] issues, and to engineer solutions that are meaningful at large (including global) scales. We can no longer afford merely to refine our documentation of the planet’s demise. If you have the option, try to make your research more relevant for society than merely […]


7 11 2012
How I learned to stop worrying and love nuclear power. | Ecology for a Crowded Planet

[…] crops from the expansion of biofuels. To me this seems blindingly obvious. There are, thankfully, other conservationists and green groups that have seen the light but in general the green movement seems to be opposed to […]


19 06 2012
Who’s responsible for climate change? Not ecologists, right? «

[…] I also think that even if all aeroplanes suddenly fell from the sky and one could no longer enjoy that transcontinental G & T, we’d still be in a terribly climate-change mess – we need BIG solutions beyond simple consumption reduction. […]


10 04 2012
Chernobyl, Fukushima … what next? | Ideas for Sustainability

[…] Some conservationists argue that nuclear energy will be part of the solution to solve our climate problem. Who can say whether they’re right? I suspect that in many cases it’s a question of where exactly nuclear energy should be used, and to what extent. But two things are clear to me: doing without nuclear energy altogether, and going fully renewable, is preferable; and the fact that accidents do happen must not be ignored when discussing the “clean” solution of nuclear energy. There’s no such thing as entirely safe nuclear energy. Source: […]


1 03 2012
Can Technology Save the Environment? « Linus Blomqvist's blog

[…] great excitement. Barry Brook blogs about this paper here and Corey Bradshaw blogs about it here. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]


1 03 2012
Can Technology Save the Environment? « Linus Blomqvist's blog

[…] great excitement. Barry Brook blogs about this paper here and Corey Bradshaw blogs about it here. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]


6 02 2012
When the cure becomes the disease «

[…] we discussed in a recent post here on, the greatest strides forward in this matured (but doggedly viscous) […]


5 01 2012
Does conservation biology need DNA barcoding? «

[…] 7 billion humans more than anything else. You can also read more about conservation science ‘mucking around the edges‘ in a previous post here on […]


21 12 2011
Surgical conservation: gain requires some pain «

[…] For the ultra-right wing Senator Abetz to turn this success into his own political poisoned arrow is, to be perfectly honest, an environmental crime in its own right. Using the weak argument that some protected species have suffered as a consequence is the classic tool of the so-called ‘environmentalists’ who would rather focus on a single species (or even individual) while the rest of biodiversity melts into extinction (see related post here). We just don’t have time for this nonsense, and this is why we have to consider uncomfortable choices such as triage and controversial energy-generation technology. […]


12 12 2011
Slicing the second ‘lung of the planet’ «

[…] the memory of Navjot Sodhi to be published in Biological Conservation in early 2012 (see also the previous post on another paper of ours that will appear in that issue), Ian Warkentin and I (Ian co-authored the first paper in TREE […]


9 11 2011
Strange bedfellows? Techno-fixes and conservation « BraveNewClimate

[…] Corey Bradshaw also has a post about the paper on Conservation Bytes, Mucking around the edges. Advertisement Eco World Content From Across The Internet. Featured on EcoPressed How to […]


8 11 2011
Tom Keen

Congralations to you and Professor Brook on having this published. As I mentioned over at Brave New Climate, I’ve never read anything quite like this in the conservation biology literature. Both original and important.

It’s good to see more people like you talking about nuclear energy. We have to get serious about realistic solutions to the myriad of global environmental problems, and sorting out our energy woes is a bloody good place to start.


8 11 2011
Markus Roder

Your word in the wizard-in-the-sky’s ear ;).
Good luck communicating your message to my deluded (German) countrymen, though…


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