Shifting from prevention to damage control

5 05 2020

timeBack in March this year before much of the world morphed into the weirdness that now dictates all facets of life, I wrote an update for the Is This How You Feel project led by Joe Duggan.

It was an exercise in emotional expression not necessarily grounded in empiricism. But in that particular piece, I had written the following line:

Few scientists in my field are still seriously considering avoidance of environmental collapse; instead, the dominant discourse is centred on damage control.

But is this correct? Is this how most scientists in conservation feel today? In a way, this post serves both as a rationale for my expectation, and as a question for the wider community.

My rationale for that contention is that it is undeniable that biodiversity is going down the toilet faster than even some of the most pessimistic of us could have predicted. We are without doubt within the sixth mass extinction event every experienced on the Earth for at least the last 600 million years.

Yet, there have never been more conservation biologists and practitioners. There have never been more international treaties and accords that expressly aim to protect biodiversity.

To assert that we have failed is unhelpful fatalism, yet it cannot be ignored that biodiversity’s predicament and those charged with turning around its fate are not exactly replete with successes.

When I started in the ‘biz’, I was probably a fairly typical, idealistic young person with visions of unrealistic grandeur about actually making a difference. Then again, I came through the system at a time when the ravages of climate change had not really started to be noticed, and when there were only about 30% fewer people on the planet (the global total is now pushing 8 billion).

So, my perspective is probably a combination of some jaded fatalism, the loss of youthful naïvety, and the progressively in-your-face environmental damage I have increasingly seen all around me every day for the last 30 years.

Yes, I still get out of bed in the morning for the main reason that I hope my work does some good in the world, but I can no longer focus on the innocent expectation of actually preventing future catastrophe.

I have therefore resigned my entire perspective to one of damage control. Preventing mass extinction is not a possibility; rather, I am convinced we can only retard the inevitable and, if the planets align, reduce the magnitude of the catastrophe to some extent.

Does the younger generation of conservationists feel the same? Do they still entertain the notion that they can make a difference? If not, what keeps them in the game?

What does this shift mean in terms of how you prioritise your career goals?

I’d been keen to hear your perspectives.

CJA Bradshaw



2 responses

24 08 2021
It’s a tough time for young conservation scientists |

[…] of despair. But as I’ve shifted my focus from ‘preventing disaster’ to trying to lessen the degree of future shittyness, I find it easier to get out of bed in the […]


6 05 2020
Rod Holden


I’m 52 and I hear you, but pull yourself together man, the world needs people like you more than ever. We CAN turn it around!! Yes, we’ve lost a lot so far and the prognosis isn’t good, but giving up never won the race. Yes, we still need damage control, but we much more need ways to change the outcome.

For a bit of hope…I spoke with a new partner at UQ the other day and we had the same conversation. She was telling me that she’s surprised that people she’s known for years (gen Y) that have never raised so much as an eyebrow are joining the greens party and the like…all from the time of reflection we’ve had from the covid-19 lockdown.

For a bit of extra hope read Paul Gildings note “Climate Contagion 2020-2025. So it begins”

Chin up and giddy up

Cheers Rod

ps, yes I get depressed about it too, but we need to give ourselves and each other a good old Aussie slap up the side of the head in times like this, so we keep going…and yep, my head hurts…


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