The case for conservation podcast

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.

Introduction to the case for conservation podcast (André Mader)
Trailer 6 min 38 sec

All Episodes

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 Policy & Governance at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment (ATREE) in Bangalore. After starting his career as an engineer, he went on to earn a PhD in Energy & Resources at UC Berkeley. Since then he has held positions as Senior Research Associate at the Pacific Institute, and fellowships or visiting fellowships at Harvard, Stanford and Cambridge Universities.Resources (linked):Nature's Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems - Seminal 1997 book edited by Gretchen Daily, to which Sharad refers in the discussion. He asked me to point out that he had mistakenly said this was by Daily and Paul Ehrlich. In fact, it builds on some earlier work by Ehrlich and others, but Ehrlich was not an author. The book focuses mostly on ecosystems' regulatory services.Millennium Ecosystem Assessment - Key assessment of "the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being" conducted from 2001 to 2005 and involving more than 1,360 experts worldwide.Untangling the Environmentalist's Paradox: Why Is Human Well-being Increasing as Ecosystem Services Degrade? - A key 2010 article in Bioscience, brought up by Sharad in our discussion.Environment and well-being: A Perspective from the Global South - A recent opinion piece that Sharad published in New Left Review, which lays out many of his views in detail.From wildlife-ism to ecosystem-service-ism to a broader environmentalism - A 2021 summary of Sharad's thoughts on ecosystem services, this time in a peer-reviewed journal.Time stamps02:46: Sharad's career change, from engineering to conservation and related topics 07:37: The nuanced and complex history of ecosystem services concepts16:26: Trade-offs between ecosystem services; ecosystem disservices23:21: How does biodiversity fit into a framework for viewing our relationship with nature?30:15: Why are human development indicators improving while environmental indicators worsen?37:40: What should be our motivation for conserving nature?48:02: Are generic frameworks really useful to describe our relationship with nature? 

Dec 5

53 min 43 sec

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 working in conservation biology - mostly in South Africa - where we met doing our Masters degrees in that subject. 02:12: How Steve chose a successful career in cardiovascular cell biology, and left it for conservation11:11: The importance of biodiversity conservation relative to climate change action16:08: Moral and practical arguments for conservation18:03: Trade-offs, consequences and opportunities25:46: Political conviction about improving conservation28:39: Why are YouTube "freak animal clips" so popular?31:48: Young people’s interest in nature35:23: The influence of inspiring individuals 40:36: The influence of spending time in nature

Nov 1

45 min 44 sec

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 turned conservative after witnessing the defeat of one such policy solution by progressive organizations early in his career.02:18: How Quill changed political perspectives early in his career09:04: What it means to be a conservative in the environmental sphere12:15: Why is environmentalism thought of as a leftist agenda?16:06: Why market-based approaches?21:23: Incremental change versus transformative change26:50: Unleashing innovation32:27: The importance of local solutions and feeling like we can make a difference35:33: The argument against environmental catastrophism38:20: A culture shift towards steadfastness against adversity

Oct 4

43 min 53 sec

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 in Canada. In this discussion they share some of the wisdom and experience they have gathered over their lifelong work. 1:33: How Widar and Grant chose careers in conservation6:15: Conservation goals compared with broader institutional goals12:53: Most difficult career challenges17:16: Ecosystem services as a tool, or not19:04: Most rewarding career achievements24:27: Changes in public and institutional attitude over time26:11: Importance of integration into broader planning28:04: Communicating conservation with non-conservation language31:11: Advice to conservationists who feel they are struggling against the odds

Sep 6

46 min 54 sec

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 the literature for years, and shares some of his conclusions with us. We also talk a little more broadly about the trend, in the literature, towards making generic causal links, when the sum of the data show correlations of varying strength, and include exceptions.03:10: Main factors likely to increase the risk of zoonotic disease spillover05:08: Relationship between biodiversity and spillover risk; the dilution effect and amplification effect12:32: The role of scale in spillover13:55: The state of the debate regarding the links between biodiversity and spillover18:18: Claims of causation and consensus22:34: Results that don't get published26:09: Communicating nuanced messages to the broader public

Aug 2

40 min 13 sec

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 some of the well-known and less well-known critiques of the scientific publication process, including the role of hype. Randy is a cell biologist, Nobel Prize winner, and previous editor-in-chief of PNAS, Annual Review of Cell Developmental Biology, and eLife. He is based at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has spent almost his entire career.01:57:  How biodiversity got Randy interested in science07:37:  How and why we publish scientific research11:50:  Domination by commercial journals17:22:  The introduction of impact factor, and its flaws21:12:  Professional editors and other problems with "luxury journals" 26:59:  The pressure to publish in big journals, and its societal implications28:11:  The problem with not publishing negative results34:41:  What's changed since Randy began his crusade in 2013?38:03:  What can we do about it?43:30:  What's the alternative to impact factor?

Jul 5

48 min 5 sec

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 writer, photographer, filmmaker and self-proclaimed conservation theorist with an uncompromising approach to conservation.04:25: What does it mean to be a conservation theorist?10:50: Overview of the concept of "huge tree planting projects".21:30: What is performative conservation?25:19: New York City High Line Park.30:10: Is performative conservation sometimes done with good intentions?35:10: Cheonggyecheon stream restoration project and Saemangeum wetlands.38:55: Prioritizing resources for the most important conservation.41:08: Ecological illiteracy prevents us from identifying mistakes in conservation.46:27: The important, and lack, of nuance in understanding conservation problems.

Jun 7

51 min 41 sec

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 Protected Planet initiative.We refer to the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) several times. The CBD is the United Nations convention that sets much of the international biodiversity agenda. Parties (countries and the EU) to the CBD make key decisions at meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COPs) to the CBD. We refer to COP-10 in Nagoya (2010); COP 14 in Sharm El Sheikh (2018); and the upcoming COP 15 in Kunming. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets are a set of global targets that emerged from COP-10 as part of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which will be superseded by the post-2020 global biodiversity framework at COP-15.09:28: What constitutes a protected area?15:52: How much of the planet is protected? 15:52: Usefulness of the protected areas concept without an international standard to guide it26:12: Are protected areas protecting biodiversity where it most needs protecting?36:07: Difference between protected areas and "other effective conservation measures" (OECMs)43:28: Differences between terrestrial and marine protected areas49:54: Impact of protected areas on communities

May 2

54 min 17 sec

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 conservation?Gillian Burke tackles this topic with me. Gillian is a biologist by training, and her career has been mostly with the BBC Natural History Unit in a variety of roles including researcher, producer and director. Most recently, she made the transition to being a TV presenter, for popular British TV programs like "Springwatch".

Apr 5

55 min 13 sec

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 the research group on Traditional Ecological Knowledge at the Academy’s Centre For Ecological Research.Links to resources can be found at 

Mar 1

47 min 16 sec

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 biology in North America and Europe.Links to resources can be found at 

Jan 31

50 min 46 sec

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 and climate change action. Among many accolades, Debra was recently named one of Apolitico's 100 most influential people in climate policy, alongside the likes of Al Gore and David Attenborough. Despite a high profile at the international level, she continues a long career primarily dedicated to the sustainability of her home city, Durban (eThekwini) in South Africa.Links to resources can be found at 

Jan 1

48 min 17 sec

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 co-authored a textbook in Conservation Science and more than 60 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, among them several that challenge some of the less well-supported orthodoxy in biodiversity conservation.Links to resources can be found at 

Dec 2020

40 min 55 sec

The conservation of nature and biodiversity is often considered to be a labor of love. After all, why would anyone want to dedicate their career to such a daunting task, which is not known for its moneymaking potential? In the developing world especially, as explained by a previous guest, more lucrative jobs are pursued as a way out of poverty. And yet we need conservationists of all stripes to tackle the biodiversity crisis.Nick Askew is director and founder of Conservation Careers - statistically-speaking the world’s leading advice centre on conservation as a career path. He identified the need for such a platform while working in other areas of conservation, and gradually built the enterprise into a full-time endeavor.Links to resources can be found at 

Nov 2020

49 min 57 sec

Ongoing biodiversity loss is most severe in the developing world, but the funding for conservation comes mostly from the developed world. In the past, conservation notoriously ignored the needs of local people. Times have changed, but how well are conservation initiatives working for people and for nature in the developing world now? Mao Amis is a Ugandan conservationist based in South Africa. His PhD is in natural resources management & planning, and his work has focused on various aspects of conservation in developing countries, including community aspects. Mao is founding director of the African Centre for a Green Economy, a capacity building organization supporting the transition to a green economy in east and southern Africa.Links to resources can be found at 

Oct 2020

43 min 29 sec

This episode explores the links between nature and COVID-19, and between nature and zoonotic disease in general. We examine the common assertion that the degradation or destruction of ecosystems is a cause of pandemics, and not just correlated with them. David helps to alleviate some (but perhaps not all) of my concerns about the accuracy of the literature on this subject. David Duthie is a conservationist who worked on biodiversity for many years in the United Nations, in Nairobi, Geneva, and Montreal. Although he is now retired he remains involved in conservation at the local level, in Oxford, and he has built an electronic library of (at time of writing) almost 75,000 publications related to biodiversity.Links to resources can be found at

Sep 2020

49 min

This episode explores the question of whether the conservation message is "getting through" and, if not, why not? Communication of this message is necessary because governments, businesses, communities, organizations and individuals need to be aware, and inspired, in order to take action. My guest had some insightful, and surprisingly positive, perspectives on this issue. Tim Hirsch studied history at Cambridge University before embarking on a diverse career, including as environmental correspondent for BBC TV. He is currently deputy director of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), which we discuss at some length during this episode. He has also been centrally responsible for the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO), the 5th edition of which is hot off the press at the time of posting this episode. The GBO is a periodic report that provides a  summary of the global status of biodiversity and an analysis of the  steps being taken to improve that status.  Links to resources can be found at

Sep 2020

59 min 23 sec

In this introduction I explain the purpose of the case for conservation podcast, and outline some basic concepts. I also describe the format that I will be using, and generally try to give the listener some idea of what to expect from subsequent episodes. In all of those subsequent episodes, I will be interviewing guests, and getting into specific topics. My name is André Mader. I am a conservation biologist by training, with a focus mostly on biodiversity policy but an interest in a wide spectrum of topics within and outside conservation. I grew up in South Africa and, thanks to my career, I've been based in various parts of that beautiful country, as well as the Middle East, Canada, Switzerland, and now Japan.

Sep 2020

6 min 38 sec