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The case for conservation podcast

Science Podcasts

The case for conserving the biodiversity of life on Earth needs to be credible and robust. Sometimes that requires a willingness to question conventional wisdom. The case for conservation podcast features long-form conversations with conservation thinkers, in which we try to untangle issues into which they have some insight.

The case for conserving the biodiversity of life on Earth needs to be credible and robust. Sometimes that requires a willingness to question conventional wisdom. The case for conservation podcast features long-form conversations with conservation thinkers, in which we try to untangle issues into which they have some insight.




The case for conserving the biodiversity of life on Earth needs to be credible and robust. Sometimes that requires a willingness to question conventional wisdom. The case for conservation podcast features long-form conversations with conservation thinkers, in which we try to untangle issues into which they have some insight.




22. Trophy hunting: Who's to judge? (Lochran Traill)

Most people outside Africa probably don’t associate trophy hunting with conservation. In fact, certain publicized incidents of trophy hunting have caused something of a global moral panic. The same often goes for the culling of animal populations to manage their numbers and the trade in ivory, even ivory harvested from elephants that die naturally. In today’s discussion we get into these perceptions, and my guest explains why they may be misguided. Lochran Traill is a lecturer at the...


21. How can we better understand environmental change? (Timm Hoffman)

In 1975, biologist Paul Ehrlich said that 90% of tropical rainforests would be lost by about 2005. Although their loss has continued at a steady rate, by 2019 the figure was more like 32%. Also in the 1970s, ecologist Kenneth Watt forecast a world 11 degrees colder in the year 2000. Of course, it’s been well publicized that the trend is in the opposite direction, and at a less severe pace. At a more modest scale, botanist John Acocks predicted in the 1950s that South Africa's Karoo (a...


20. Is renewable energy better for biodiversity? (Alexandros Gasparatos)

Renewable energy is one of the great hopes of humankind when it comes to addressing the threat of climate change and some forms of pollution. Thanks to technological advances it’s now become cost-effective enough to compete with non-renewable energy sources. As renewable energy technologies and efficiency continue improving, and new innovations emerge, it’s hoped that we can make clean energy ubiquitous. But, as Thomas Sowell said, "there are no solutions - only trade-offs". The harm done by...


19. Is aquaculture good or bad for the environment? (Roz Naylor)

It’s widely agreed that one of our greatest global environmental challenges is the impact of fisheries on the oceans. Aquaculture, practiced at a small scale around the world and especially in Asia for centuries, emerged decades ago as a potential solution. But it soon became clear that aquaculture was using more wild-caught fish as feed (as an input), than it was generating as product. In other words, it was making the situation even worse. However, things have changed in the way that we...


18. Can we balance people's and nature's water needs? (Jenny Day)

Freshwater biodiversity tends to be the most threatened of all types of biodiversity. In this episode I speak with Jenny Day about the state of freshwater biodiversity in South Africa's drought-prone Southwestern Cape, and elsewhere in the world. We get into how it coexists with humankind’s need for water. Jenny is emeritus professor of freshwater ecology at the University of Cape Town, where she was also Director of the Freshwater Research Unit for many years. She has co-authored the book...


17. Are we conserving for the right reasons? (Sharachchandra Lele)

Much has been written about why we wish to protect nature. The initial motivation for conservation was ostensibly for nature's own sake. Around the 1980s, the concept of ecosystem services began to highlight ways in which we depend on nature, as a motivation for conservation. Ecosystem services and similar concepts now dominate the discourse. But do they adequately describe our relationship with nature? Sharachchandra Lele (or Sharad, for short) is Distinguished Fellow in Environmental...


16. How do we cultivate enthusiasm for nature? (Steven Lowe)

People from various walks of life have an affinity to nature. Why is that, and why is nature important to us? This episode is less of an inquiry and more of a ramble through this topic, with one of the most nature-loving, inspiring and interesting people I know. Steven Lowe is is a high school science teacher in the UK. But he started as a cardiovascular cell biology researcher, after earning his PhD in that subject. In between those two sub-careers he spent more than 10 years studying and...


15. Is conservatism better for conservation? (Quill Robinson)

Why has environmentalism come to be considered a left-wing agenda, even though much of its history has conservative roots? And what does it even mean to be conservative when it comes to conservation and environmental issues? Quill Robinson has some ideas about this. He is Vice President of Government Affairs for the American Conservation Coalition, and spends much of his time in Congress advocating for what he considers pragmatic, bipartisan policy solutions to environmental challenges. He...


14. How do conservationists keep going? (Widar Narvelo & Grant Pearsell)

Most conservationists are motivated by the purpose of their work. But that work often involves a lot of struggle and it can be daunting, especially when one does not yet have the experience of hard-won success to draw inspiration from. So, how do we keep going when the odds seem stacked against us? Grant Pearsell and Widar Narvelo both recently retired from decades-long, pioneering careers in urban conservation - Widar at the City of Helsingborg in Sweden and Grant at the City of Edmonton...


13. Does biodiversity prevent pandemics? (Dan Salkeld)

There is a lot in the media these days about how protecting biodiversity reduces the risk of zoonotic disease spillover, and hence the risk of epidemics and pandemics. There seems to be a lot of good evidence for this in published studies on the topic, but how universal is such a conclusion? What is the science behind it? What about context? Are there exceptions to the rule? Dan Salkeld is a disease ecologist, and professor at Colorado State University. He has been addressing this topic in...


12. Is hype distorting science? (Randy Schekman)

The scientific method remains the best systematic approach we have been able to develop in our ongoing endeavor to advance human flourishing. But that does not mean it's perfect - indeed, it probably never will be. But what are the ways in which we can make science better? Perhaps some of the most fundamental ways lie in the process of publishing research findings. This applies to biodiversity science as much as it does to other scientific disciplines. Randy Schekman joins me to pick apart...


11. Performative conservation: What's wrong with showing off? (Adam Welz)

These days some very impressive-sounding conservation projects are catching the public eye, from massive tree-planting initiatives to high-profile urban greening. They capture the headlines and they capture the imagination. But do they deserve the level of attention and adulation that they receive? Or should we be a little more discerning as conservationists and the public, and pay a little more attention to the details? Someone who has looked into these questions is Adam Welz. He is a...


10. How's it going with protected areas? (Brian MacSharry)

Protected areas like nature reserves and national parks are about the most fundamental manifestation of nature conservation there is, and have existed in various forms for centuries. But are they achieving what they are meant to achieve? Does formal protection necessarily translate into biodiversity conserved? Brian MacSharry is well placed to respond to these questions. He is Head of the Biodiversity and Nature Group at the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, and former lead of the...


9. Is there still racial discrimination in conservation? (Gillian Burke)

Many Western nations have been undergoing a period of intense reflection on issues of discrimination. Recent incidents have re-ignited social movements like Black Lives Matter. Public intellectuals are addressing the topic with a variety of opinions - often confined to their own echo chambers. Are all concerns about discrimination justified? Are people too easily assuming that discrimination is the reason for injustice? And... what on Earth does any of this have to do with...


8. How can indigenous & local knowledge complement biodiversity science? (Zsolt Molnár)

Indigenous peoples and local communities are increasingly recognized for the importance of their contribution to global biodiversity knowledge. But is indigenous & local knowledge (ILK) being vetted, in a parallel to peer review's vetting of scientific knowledge? And how does ILK add to global biodiversity knowledge, if it is typically very localized? Zsolt Molnár helps me to explore these questions. Zsolt is a botanist and ethnoecologist at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and head of...


Mini episode (ii): Marine worms & surgical adhesives

One of the challenges facing certain surgical procedures is how to glue tissue in a wet environment. The sandcastle worm (Phragmatopoma californica) solved a similar problem millions of years ago, and we have managed to mimic the recipe.


7. Are alien species always a net negative? (Martin Schlaepfer)

Invasive alien species are considered one of the five main direct drivers of biodiversity loss, worldwide, as well as causing untold damage to economic assets like agriculture. Is there ever anything to be said for accepting them into the landscapes or seascapes they've occupied? And what about non-invasive alien species, and invasive native species? Martin Schlaepfer is an ecologist and senior lecturer at the University of Geneva. He has diverse experience across the field of conservation...


Mini episode (i): How biodiversity informs human progress

We conserve nature ultimately for our own good - to sustain the benefits that it offers humankind. Curiously, nature's diversity is seldom given the attention it deserves for its role in human flourishing. But every organism has untold potential to help us solve humanity's practical problems. Thousands have already done so. In this first mini episode I overview the issue and explain what to expect in subsequent episodes. Here is a link to the paper quoted in this episode.


6. Why should cities play a bigger role in conservation? (Debra Roberts)

Since about 2007 most of the world's population has been living in cities and, if there's one thing we're learning about conservation, it's that people matter. But why do people in cities matter? Why do cities themselves matter? And why are cities not playing a more prominent role in conservation globally? I ask Debra Roberts, whose experience and skills range from academia to policy to implementation; across local, national and international levels; and in both biodiversity conservation...


5. Is nature conservation being too conservative? (Michelle Marvier)

Uncertainty of outcomes is a feature of conservation. That's perhaps why the "precautionary principle" is held so sacred in this field. But, considering the potential cost of inaction in a rapidly-changing world, are we being a bit too cautious? Michelle Marvier and Peter Kereiva recently tackled this topic, and Michelle discussed it with me on the podcast. Michelle Marvier is a professor in the Department of Environmental Studies & Sciences at Santa Clara University. She has authored and...