Conservation and controversy at the ICCB

logo_iccb-eccb2015The 2015 International Conference for Conservation Biology (ICCB) and the 4th European Congress for Conservation Biology (ECCB) was a mix of more than 900 talks, 740 posters and over 2000 delegates from 98 difference countries. Quite impressive! The theme of the conference “Mission Biodiversity: Choosing New Paths for Conservation” is more vital than ever as we work to overcome the biodiversity crisis that is unfolding before us. “Choosing New Paths for Conservation” is especially interesting as it reflects on the evolution of conservation over the past decade and admits our mistakes. Rather than pure ecology, conservation is maturing into an interdisciplinary field. It has found new paths and often aims to integrate social, economic and ecological sciences, for both the conservation of wildlife and for human well-being.

The four day conference brought together people from different disciplines such as biology, religion, economics, computer and social science among others, and served as a great opportunity to meet people working in different areas of conservation. The various sessions covered an enormous range of topics, ranging from traditional knowledge, justice and values, modelling, conservation and development, invasive species, illegal trade, citizen science, ethics, and even the use of drones in conservation.

One of the highlights and the most talked about event was in fact the first plenary, given by Peter Kareiva and Professor Clive Spash. Peter Kareiva is the Executive Director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA and an advisor from the Nature Conservancy. Professor Clive Spash is from the Vienna University of Economics and Business. Their opposing visions for conservation got many people thinking about how they want conservation to progress in the future.  Peter challenged us to think about what we would like the year 2050 to look like and put forward his pathway to achieving this vision.  His talk was very pragmatic, describing how conservationists should be working with the companies and governments that are currently damaging the environment. He suggested that these forces should be encouraged to value nature through increased collaboration with conservation scientists, even if it means attributing a financial value to it.

Credit: Bioversity International
Credit: Bioversity International

In total contrast, Clive described how placing the economic value on nature completely undermines the way in which we ‘should’ be valuing it and how economic services fail to acknowledge the intangible benefits of our environment. He believes that although ‘nice’ guys may work within multinational corporations, the corporations themselves are psychopathic and will only destroy nature and progressively drive the dollar value down. He received a standing ovation, which apparently does not often happen at the ICCB.

Whilst they totally disagreed on the way in which a vision for 2050 should be reached, they did (thankfully) agree on what that 2050 vision should look like. We should live in a world where we use our resources efficiently, without leaving it destroyed, inhospitable and driving further mass extinctions of the biodiversity that keep humans alive. Whilst I liked Peter’s optimism that we can work with corporations and politicians to make this world a better place, I do fear that Clive is right. One thing is for sure; if we are to prevent this from happening and create the future we want, then we need to act fast and we need to act now.

However, the ICCB did serve to highlight the value and need that collaboration with other disciplines can play for conservation. Here’s hoping that the next ICCB will continue to build on this momentum, attract an even greater diversity of speakers, continue to provoke thoughtful discussion and collaboration and realise the paths in conservation that have been discussed so passionately.