Armchair conservationists

I’m somewhat of an armchair conservationist – after I’ll I’m writing this with my butt firmly planted in a chair and yes, it has arms on it.

Reporting on stories from all over the world is interesting work, but it’s nothing like being there and really understanding the issues – to be intimate with the topic and not just cranking out content based on specific research or reports, which are often sensationalized and sometimes not very well balanced.

Given my own bias, it can be a challenge not to join in and there’s always a temptation to amplify it if it’s a topic I’m particularly passionate about.

I was reminded of the dangers of armchair activism today in a story on a great environmental site, MongaBay.

It’s basically about “bleeding heart” and unrealistic approaches that only tackle one aspect of an environmental issue rather than holistically; with a possible outcome of doing more damage in the long term than good.

An example in the article is of a researcher who has stopped talking about orangutans when working with people living in orangutan habitats as the people raise the very valid point of why we in the “developed” world are so concerned about the primates and not about the native people.

It makes sense – humanitarian issues aside, without the support of those people, the orangutan doesn’t stand a chance. The Dayak (or Dyak) are indigenous to Borneo and a key to the orangutan’s survival. By placing the primate above the needs of the locals, and I mean needs, not wants – it doesn’t set up a really good dynamic and perhaps makes some of them despise the creature.
Just another example – from personal experience. Back in the day, I worked in the commercial fishing industry – yes, tut, tut, I know. There are many things about my fishing days that I’m not proud of.
I was involved in many different aspects – trawl nets, dredges, seining, traps, handlining, droplining and longlining.

When longlining for tuna, we used to sometimes catch swordfish, marlin or large “maneater” sharks as bycatch. These species were not targeted as tuna we were chasing for the sashimi market were far more lucrative; however, we were able to sell this bycatch and it helped pay for expenses. As a share fisherman, you shared in the catch, but also some of the costs. That means that you may go out and risk your life in crappy weather for a few days and if you caught nothing, you would be presented with a bill at the end of the trip for your share of fuel, ice and bait.

Often with marlin and broadbill we wouldn’t sell it, but just divvy it up among ourselves for our friends and family. One large marlin feeds a lot of people.

Laws were then introduced where “maneater” sharks above a certain size couldn’t be sold because of “mercury content” – but we knew it was those darn greenies behind it.

Oddly enough, prawn (shrimp) and snapper had higher mercury levels, but weren’t included as they are too big an industry with too many powerful players involved.

Furthermore, with either marlin or broadbill swordfish (my memory isn’t clear on which one), we couldn’t even keep them to feed ourselves! I still have a image emblazoned in my memory of watching one of these huge fish sink slowly into the ocean darkness after we had to cut the line as by law we couldn’t have it on board. It was stone cold dead; still, we could do nothing with it but let it sink.

To kill one of these magnificent fish is sad, to have to wasted it, bordering on criminal. However, I guess nothing in nature is wasted.. a “maneater” probably chomped on it on the way down.. only to be caught by a fisherman, who couldn’t sell that either.

Back in those days, I know my thoughts on the topic were “those bloody greenies!” – actually, they were a little more colorful than that.

Environmentalists were the enemy of fishermen back then, however I think relations have thawed a little now with those in the Australian fishing industry now playing a more active role in fisheries management, rather than being on the outer and dictated to.

.. and that’s the key: when it comes to environmental issues, we need to dig a little deeper and try and see the bigger picture and involve all stakeholders, be they friend or “foe”, create allies from enemies to achieve a common goal that fosters understanding and works for all – within reason and within reasonable timeframes of course. After all, the planet won’t wait forever; nor will a species on the edge of extinction.