We want you to know what is going on in the BOD, our meetings, our actions, members leaving, the new ones elected,... but text written in this blog cannot be taken an official position or statement of the Society for Conservation Biology. Probably it is not even an official statement of the section... as these need to be approved by the members.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The tragedy of the commons reloaded: now with better technology

Entry by: Guy Pe’er.

Disclaimer: This entry represents my personal opinion and should not be considered as an official statement of SCB-ES. I would like to thank Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley for her kind assistance in preparing and editing this entry.

It was a beautiful sunny morning as I was cycling along Cospudener Lake in Leipzig, Germany. The area was once an open cast mine for brown coal, and is now a restored environment and a popular leisure area. I put my bike aside and approached the waterline, enjoying the soothing wind and the murmur of the waves. I then sat on the soft grass, and… pulled out my mobile phone to read the news. Soon after, the calming effect of nature was gone once reading the news that the United States' President, Donald Trump, had resigned the Paris agreement. For me, this moment offered a powerful demonstration of our disconnection from nature.

While many world leaders and companies have already condemned this decision, we as scientists, and particularly as conservation scientists, should recognize the severity of the political discourse where science and evidence seem irrelevant or even undesirable, and where the most developed countries, who are the key contributors to the current environmental crisis, withdraw any responsibility to remedy it.

The United States is the world's largest national economy in nominal terms and second largest according to purchasing power parity (PPP), representing 22% of nominal Gross Domestic Product, and 17% of Gross World Product (GWP). The United States is also the world’s second largest contributor of Green House Gas emissions (14.34%; second to China with 29.51%), and this is without considering the global emissions the country is driving elsewhere. It is also the 5th leading country in terms of Ecological Footprint, and 2nd largest (after China) when multiplying ecological footprint (gha/person) by its population.

Ecological footprint by nation - source: Wikipedia

Despite this, the people of the United States have democratically elected a government which endorses environmental irresponsibility and the silencing of the scientific community as its official policy line. To put it straight, the question should not be whether climate change is happening because of us, but rather, why do so many people choose to deny climate change? While this question is likely best addressed by a social scientist, it seems plausible that accepting the fact that Earth has planetary boundaries forces all of us to call into question the freedom of consumption and the concept of limitless economic growth. Accepting that Earth has boundaries implies that we must limit our own consumption, yet without immediate observable benefits for doing so. With this in mind, there is plenty of evidence that Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States to bring economic growth at any cost, be it to poorer communities, the global South, our environment (both climate and biodiversity), but also costs to our children and future. All these costs in favour of achieving one digestible coin, namely growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is in fact a poor indicator of human well-being and can be achieved by just a few people getting exceedingly rich.

The collapse of global agreements and international responsibilities is in no way exclusive to the United States. Across many developed countries we see an ongoing struggle to enable the global economy to continue growing, against all odds. In Europe this is demonstrated by Juncker’s “Growth and Jobs” agenda (no environment mentioned), and the looming Brexit was largely motivated by economic grounds. Yet when nations take to themselves, they allow non-national actors to govern the global economy and global markets, guiding our society from consumerism to hyper-consumerism. 

This is nothing else but a revised form of the Tragedy of the Commons, where individuals act to maximise their own short-term benefits by exhausting a common good (our environment) to a point of collapse – yet now we are shifting from mere exploitation to using increasingly-modern technologies for extracting more of Earth’s dwindling resources at a faster rate. As conservation scientists, we should therefore be alarmed by the years ahead of us, particularly because climate change takes the headlines anyway, whereas biodiversity is put aside; and beyond that, the mechanisms to reverse the biodiversity crisis remain weak or fragile.

So what can (conservation) scientists, as members of society, do to help us move away from this political lock-in? Here are ten ideas that came to mind.

1. Abandon wrong indicators and particularly GDP. We need an economy which makes sense, and which internalizes Earth’s natural resources. Neither growth nor “sustainable growth” should be accepted without questioning them. As scientists we should thus help a transition from speaking about incomes and the economy to focusing on well-being, health and tangible life quality, and accordingly improving the links between socio-economic and environmental (biodiversity) indicators.

2. Ensure that biodiversity is not put aside in the current discourse on climate, energy, water and waste. In contrast with the climate discourse, the biodiversity crisis is to a certain extent more tangible and cannot be denied, and likely there is also more room for facts and science compared to other discussions (e.g. climate) which seem to move ever deeper into the post-normal arena. Perhaps we should even ask ourselves: how can conservation science offer leadership in shaping the sustainability agenda?

3. Invest in bottom-up solutions. I believe this is particularly important, because ultimately, democratic leaders tend to respond to what the public wants. By putting emphasis on small-scale initiatives such as citizen science, outreach, and education, we can begin at the grass-roots level to engage with others and to share our passion and knowledge about our natural environment. Possibly, only bottom-up approaches can drive changes in our society and economy in the longer term.

4. Communicate conservation knowledge through social media. Humans as a social species seem to accept information based on where and whom it comes from, more so than if the information is (stated as) a fact. This suggests that scientists need to be as present as possible in public discussions regarding our environment, and the relation with the public may need to be tighter. Social media therefore offer key avenues for building these connections.

5. Ask hard questions, and write clear statements. It is our responsibility as scientists to unravel the processes underlying not only Earth’s ecosystems but also the mechanisms driving the ever-worsening human-Earth conflict – be it at the individual, community, national or international level. As individual scientists, we may also need to train ourselves in identifying and combating false-evidence and false-narratives, such as the unsupported claims that “we need to produce more” , the belief that “technology can save the environment” , or statements such as “…always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection” (D.J. Trump, 22.4.2017). Factually, activities relating to economic growth inherently come in conflict with nature conservation, and there is no evidence that we can decouple consumption from material- and space-use. Along these lines, we also need to be aware of opportunities to leverage our roles in societies, like the Society for Conservation Biology, to produce official position papers such as an immediate statement against Trump's myriad policy decisions both against climate change mitigation and the environment in general.

6. Leverage opportunities for action. The United States resignation from the Paris Agreement opens the opportunity for other nations to lead the dialogue and actions to drive change, and design more robust and equitable environmental policies. Actions to come, likely in the contexts of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (or Brexit), can offer opportunities to raise awareness to the severity of the biodiversity crisis and the risks of deregulation. Consider how you could use such events to contact your elected officials, and encourage them to take leadership on progressive policies that explicitly value the environment and human well-being.

7. Work with economists, policy-experts, and environmental lawyers. We need to identify what constitutional, legal and economic adaptations can be achieved and how. While natural scientists can point at the problems, the solutions require finding the paths to mainstream public opinion, setting the economic tools and incentives, and developing the necessary legal instruments to ensure that the fate of our natural capital – and our future - will not be put at the hand of one person or a short-sighted political constellation.

8. Live by example. Socio-economic changes can be practiced by each of us: Scientists have an above-average CO2 footprint, so a good place to start is by taking actions to reduce our own footprint. Also, the impacts of consumption on biodiversity are often indirect or difficult to avoid, so raising our own awareness about impacts of certain goods and consumption patterns, and taking efforts to reduce those impacts, is another good start. If we expect society to change, we too need to reflect on our own habitat, and drive changes from within.

9. Ensure own sustainability. By this I mean support your own mental and physical well-being so that you are prepared for the science-policy dialogue, and not to burn yourself out. Be mindful of the fact that diverse values sit at the science-policy table and interface, and that acknowledging other's values, whether you agree or not, is important. Along these lines, remember self-care. You can't always be present or address all critical topics. There are many of us in conservation, and we should support one another and sustain ourselves and presence jointly to ensure we are continuously present, expressing our concerns and offering solutions where possible.

10. I leave it for you to propose your observations and suggestions. What should we, conservation scientists and members of SCB, do?


Guy Pe’er is a "Catalyst post-doc" at the sDiv, the synthesis Centre of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Why do some social scientists still feel the need to apologise for their presence at a conservation conference?

At the recent 2017 Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS) in Cambridge, student talks kicked off with an apology. The first talk featured a common anthropological study method, ethnography – something that the PhD researcher presenting felt the need to justify. Given increasing recognition that the root causes of many (if not most) conservation issues can be traced back to human behaviours in some form, why do the social sciences still sometimes seem out of place in the conservation field?

From economic cost-benefit analyses to psychological insights into human decision-making, conservation has much to gain from embracing the social sciences and yet the default position still seems to be one of “hard science” quantitative positivism. There is a need for more holistic approaches to conservation research, practice, and policy. Transdisciplinary research, which goes beyond interdisciplinarity by transcending specific disciplines and holistically approaching complex issues, can help us to break down the old barriers between research silos. A true community-based approach to conservation can be developed by integrating disparate forms of learning and beliefs, including those from civil society.

This may perhaps be a minority view, but not an outlying one. There have been multiple papers published in the last few years proclaiming the value that social scientists can contribute to conservation. We work in a solution-orientated subject where it makes sense to avail ourselves of all available methods, including those which tackle the human dimensions of conservation for practice and policy.  This does not seem to be merely lip service; there is increasingly recognition from funders also. Conservation social scientists are beginning to win big grants. In my own department at DICE, Zoe Davies has just been awarded a 2 million Euro grant to study how nature underpins human wellbeing.

And yet, only two of the nine SCCS student sessions, and three of the ten workshops, could be characterised as focusing on the human-dimensions of conservation (though credit is due for the fantastic plenary talk on behavioural economics by Brendan Fisher). Whether this was due to lack of applicants or an oversight by the organising committee, a token presence, a vague nod at inclusion, is not enough. We need to start playing a major role both at the forefront of the field in journals and backstage at conferences. Consider this a call to my fellow conservation social scientists, the anthropologists and the psychologists, the lawyers and the educators, to join me at the Cambridge SCCS 18 without apologising for your presence. Where could be a better place to form long-lasting transdisciplinary collaborations, to develop a holistic approach to conservation using knowledge generated across disciplinary boundaries?
This post is by Laura Thomas-Walters who is a PhD candidate at DICE, University of Kent, United Kingdom. You can reach Laura on Twitter @LauraThoWal.  

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Scientists meet to identify top 100 questions for Mediterranean biodiversity conservation

From 13-16 June, 2017 Angela and Grant Wardell-Johnson (Curtin University, Perth, Australia) visited Francisco Moreira (Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) Ad-Hoc Committee for Mediterranean Conservation Coordinator) in Lisbon, Portugal. The SCB Europe Section funded part of the travel costs for the two Australian researchers to visit Portugal. The team, representing 2 of the 5 Mediterranean environments in the world, met to advance the top 100 questions for Mediterranean biodiversity conservation. The goal of the top 100 questions initiative is to identify priorities for the conservation of biological diversity in the world's five Mediterranean regions.

Mediterranean regions are biodiversity hotspots facing multiple threats from climate change and anthropogenic drivers of change like land use and damming of waterways. The Ad-Hoc Committee for Mediterranean Conservation was established in 2012 under SCB Europe Section with the goal of tackling conservation issues in the Mediterranean regions of Europe, and elsewhere around the world. Mediterranean-type regions exist not only in Southern Europe but also in North Africa and four other regions in the world (USA, Chile, South Africa, Australia), spanning different SCB sections. Often, biodiversity threats and conservation issues are shared across these regions. After two days of intensive work making progress on the top 100 questions for these regions, the three researchers took some time off, and travelled to Mediterranean biodiversity hotspots around Lisbon.

Finally, SCB encourages the development of topical working groups with relevance to its mission and goals  (see https://conbio.org/groups/working-groups/about-working-groups). Francisco  is actively working to establish a Mediterranean Working Group, and needs twenty active SCB members to support the idea through expressions of interest. If you are a SCB member, and interested in joining a Mediterranean Working Group, please contact Francisco (fmoreira(at)cibio(dot)up(dot)pt). 

From left to right, Francisco Moreira (SCB Europe Section), Angela Wardell-Johnson, Grant Wardell-Johnson and Pedro Beja, during the meeting at the Institute of Agronomy, Lisbon.

Thanks to Francisco for sharing the story and update! 

Monday, 12 June 2017

Our ECCB 2018 mascot has a name!

We have an exciting year ahead! The next European Congress for Conservation Biology (ECCB 2018) will take place in Jyväskylä, Finland and we’re busy preparing for the event! Last month one of our tasks was to choose and name our mascot. We asked ourselves, what could represent the natural beauty of the taiga? There is no one better than the magnificent Great Grey Owl!

Seppo, a talented Finnish cartoonist and illustrator, made some amazing drawings (above) of the ECCB 2018 mascot, and we here at the SCB Europe Section asked our Facebook members and Twitter followers to share their favorite names for our festive bird!

Our followers were very inspired to name the ECCB 2018 mascot, and so it was hard to choose the four finalists (Aurora, Dr Woo-Who, Misty and Nokka) from 17 total nominations that we originally received. With our four finalist names in-hand (see above), we asked our Facebook members and Twitter followers to vote for their favorite name.

And the winner is….

Dr Woo-Who! Thumbs-up!

Thank you to all of members and followers who contributed suggestions and feedback during our ECCB2018 Mascot naming contest!

We extend a warm congratulations to Chris Parsons aka @Craken_MacCraic for nominating our winning name!  Dr Woo-Who!

Post by: Nadia Castro-Izaguirre

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Seeking European Congress for Conservation Biology (ECCB) Diversity Officer/Chair

We are seeking a Diversity Officer/Chair for European Congress for Conservation Biology! 
See below for details, and please email your application to SCB Europe Section President Bege JonssonDetails for the application and the role are shared below, and any questions can be directed to Bege (Bengt-gunnar.jonsson(at)miun(dot)se). 

You can download the application and role description as a .pdf here.

Thank you!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Selling the Bialowieza Forest on Ebay

The ‘Białowieża’ exhibition in Berlin and the artist behind it: Kinga Kielczynska, in an arts-science-conservation talk with Stefan Kreft, of SCB-Europe’s Policy Committee. Before you read, you can learn more about Białowieża Forest from one of our earlier blog posts

Kinga Kielczynska: Białowieża Invite. digital print, 2017.
My first impression is the odour of wood, the aromatic smell of freshly carpentered wood. I am given a shy welcome by Kinga Kielczynska, and that late Saturday afternoon, cold and darkening Berlin outside, we have her exhibition in the EXILE gallery for ourselves. She asks me to take off my shoes and takes me into the first room. It is completely laid with spruce boards. Kinga’s shyness vanishes, she is feeling at home in the exhibition – quite like a scientist feels at home when talking about her or his work at a poster session, perhaps. “The ‘Ebay Meditation Room’”, she explains, with a faint smile, both gracious and cunning at the same time. The spruce boards are from a tree that used to live in the Polish part of the Białowieża Forest. “After coming to Białowieża, I had that intuition and went to the local sawmill.” One year ago, the EuropeSection teamed up with local NGOs, IUCN, UNESCO and the EU Commission againstthe tripling of wood harvest that had been defined in the existing Natura 2000 management plan. The forest administration had declared that the wood cut in the course of the much disputed ‘salvage loggings’ would be for local use as fuelwood. However, the sawmill owners assured Kinga this wood is being auctioned just as any other wood. The artist selected and bought enough boards to lay the floor with it. And then, in a witty twist - put the wood for sale on Ebay. “Selling exceptionally beautiful wooden floor. All the way from Białowieża, Poland”. And clarifies: “Białowieża is the last remaining part of the primeval forest in lowland Europe and it is a UNESCO world heritage site”. Using Ebay for exposing people’s greed – what a wonderful fine irony. 

Kinga Kielczynska: Białowieża Ebay Ad
(ebay.de/itm/262803825139). A4 print, 2017.
In another surprising twist, the sawmill owners accompanied Kinga to Berlin (relatives living over here they had not seen for while) and offered her the favour to lay the floor with the spruce planks she had just bought from them.

I am hearing the artist’s voice twice – the second voice coming from a small MP3 player bedded on a pillow. Kinga’s voice interrogates the visitor with a slowly, but continuously evolving series of questions: “… can you imagine yourself as air … can you imagine yourself as an air conditioner … can air ever be conditioned …”. Although very minimalist, the exhibition room transmits complexity, ambiguities and ambivalences that leave the beholder tentative.

It is like imagining oneself walking through the strange forest that is moving on the computer screen in the other exhibition room. The screensaver is an overlay of a series of pictures taken in the Białowieża Forest. Creepy, I am thinking. And somewhere there walking through the forest, too, one imagines, is the artist with her saw, with half her face missing … I had seen her on the exhibition invite card.

We turn around and sit down in front of a drawing of charcoal on paper covering the entire length of the wall. A distinctly friendly look: women and men, smiling and reaching up their hands, some carrying ball shapes – the Sun? The Earth? She points to a root ball, with a young tree emerging from it. “This is which everything else in the drawing has developed from.” 

Kinga Kielczynska: Białowieża Screensaver.
Composite of all photographs taken by the artist in Białowieża, 2017.
We discover we share the love for nature, and forests in particular. She spent much of her childhood in Poland with her grandparents on the countryside, and I too am from a rural region, three quarters of it covered with forest. 

She explains that, while she doesn’t want to defend the government’s policy in Białowieża, she has the impression that both sides got stuck in yelling at each other. I argue that when it comes to century-old trees, speaking out loudly may be the only option if you want to be heard before they fall. It will take hundreds of years for new trees to grow and replace them, if that’s possible at all.

It would be tragic to see a change in policy when it is already too late for the old trees.

Kinga Kielczynska and her ‘Białowieża Drawing’
(photo: Stefan Kreft)
The exhibition, however, doesn’t take anybody’s side. It asks questions. It is a meditation on the forest, and the people that have lived with it for ages, and their individual understanding of what the forest means to them. 

It has become late. Before Kinga switches off the lights and locks the door, we admire the patterns of lichens on a long piece of bark. “It is from the tree I cut with the saw you see on the picture. A forest guard has explained to me that the bark of a bark-beetle infested tree breaks off differently than that from of other trees.”

I take her to the entrance of the subway, a smile, shy again, and Kinga Kielczynska disappears underground …

… can you imagine yourself as Białowieża Forest … can you imagine yourself as a Białowieża Forest conditioner … can Białowieża Forest ever be conditioned?

Stefan Kreft, February 23, 2017
You can still visit the exhibition (closed on February 11) at: http://exilegallery.org/exhibitions/bialowieza/

*Images copyright and courtesy of the artist and EXILE, Berlin, unless noted otherwise.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Marketing of Research

An inspirational experience at SCCS Hungary - guest post by Nora Thieme

Enthralling how vast conservation biology topics can be. Mind-opening plenaries, practical workshops, energetic presentations: learned some simple, but practical ways, how to make a good presentation, new for me, only finished the bachelor degree. Ten minutes talk, need to convince the audience – a very short time, can’t tell everything…  Stressful… Of course every topic is important… but yours is the most important for you! Why else are you there for? To learn of course, widen your mentality, networking, but still… And you only get ten minutes..! So you overcome your emotions from public speech and your antisocial behavior, and motivate yourself: “Why am I here, why did I come? Why is social approach in conservation of Carpathian brown bear so important in a developing country? I’d like to see the sparkle in this people’s eyes – they got the message!” Need to find the shorter way to make “a hook”, and make a point. No need to tell everything, to present the circumstantial methodology and full particulars… If people gain interest, they will ask anyway… you’re not at school anymore! But a powerful message is needed, presented in scientific language – great experience! Feels good to be in brainstorming environment!

Post written by Nora Thieme, a M.Sc. Candidate at the University of Babe -Bolyai in Romania. You can contact Nora  by email: thiemenora(at)gmail(dot)com.