Conservationists & environmentalists: you talk the talk, why not walk the walk?

Something that has been perplexing me of late has been the phenomenon where conservationists and environmentalists alike understand the threats to biodiversity (e.g. carbon emissions from travel, overconsumption in general, and meat consumption from intensive farms) and yet are less than keen to reflect these behavioural changes in their personal lives.  Last year, upon attending a group meeting with other conservation PhD students, our supervisor provided us with biscuits.  I asked whether they would be Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance certified, and he looked at me as if I were mad; "err, no, Niki, I'll buy whatever is cheapest or I find first".  A carnivore conservation organisation I know promotes the idea of predator-friendly beef, where cows are raised on farms where the farmers take proactive measures to protect them from predators so they do not have to resort to killing them.  However, they do not buy this meat themselves for their staff canteen.  Conservationists love to have conferences in far-flung places like Hawaii and Indonesia, but fail to comprehend the carbon emissions released from 1,000 people travelling to these exotic resorts.  And don't even get me started on the failure of some environmentalists to understand the effects of having more than two children.

So my question is this:  why, if these people are advocating these behaviour changes in their academic papers, campaigns, policies and mantras, do they not reflect these changes in their own lives?  Are they just too hard to achieve, and if so, why bother trying to get others to change if they can't even do it themselves?  Or do they like to profess that they know how to change the world but are too lazy to do it themselves?

Going back to the biscuit situation: my supervisor told me he's an academic and it's not his job to change the world; he just researches things that he finds interesting and reports it to the community at large. I have noticed this viewpoint from many academics I have met: they enjoy studying and collecting data and writing up papers, but they appear far removed from actually doing the things they recommend in their peer-review journal articles - that's up to someone else to conduct.  But who?  If we all think that it's someone else's job to make changes, nothing will ever happen.  If the people whose careers depend on coming up with solutions to this conservation mess we're currently in don't even want to change for the better, why on earth do they expect the rest of the world to change?

I guess in short what I'm trying to say is that if you really care about the environment, and you want to continue your career in it, you cannot merely study it to extinction (because then you won't have a job unless you want to side-step into palaeontology).  Why point fingers at other countries/organisations/people, when you could be doing your own bit?  Why him, when it could be you?  Why them, when it could be us?


  1. Completely agree with you. Hypocrits is the appropriate term to be used here. Surely it would discredit/create doubts about their work/reputation if they do not follow the principles that they are preaching. It raises questions as to how and why they became interested in the field of study in the first place.


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