Conserving biodiversity will need true sacrifices.

[this is a half-baked reflection after a lab meeting discussion on the EU biodiversity policies. Thanks to the lab and especially to Elena Velado for the discussion]

We are embedded in a culture where the only valid success is complete success. Making compromises, or renouncing something to focus on other priorities is often seen as a weakness if not a failure. There is no better example than what we see every day in the movies. Even when the main character has to make a sacrifice, in the end, he or she ends up gaining everything, including what they sacrificed. For example, you need to let go of your true love, but then you discover that was the way to secure it. You renounce your dream job for your family, and this allows you to find an even better job and be successful also in that dimension. You need to betray your friends to save the galaxy, and your friends still love you for that. You get the point. We are in a culture where we are expected to do small sacrifices to gain it all anyway, so in the end, you really don’t sacrifice anything.

The EU Green Deal is also embedded in this narrative, where we are promised that with a “small” economic sacrifice, we can conserve biodiversity, and in doing so, we will enhance our well-being and our economy. No real sacrifices and a vision that changing gears to support biodiversity will allow us to keep growing economically. I love this story, and it would be great to switch to a more sustainable future with no real costs. In fact, I used the fallacy that conserving pollinators is cost-effective because they will increase your crop yield. But this is not completely true. When going deeper, we also showed that pollinators worth conserving are not usually the ones who deliver crop pollination (Kleinj et al 2016) and that the costs of sustaining pollinators do not always compensate economically via an increase in yield (Scheper et al in prep). This does not mean we shouldn’t safeguard pollinators, but that doing it only for economical reasons is not going to work. At some point, we need to sacrifice something, and it’s our choice.

The danger of a narrative that ignores real situations of compromise where you need to sacrifice things that make your life easier, and not acknowledge that there are trade-offs that force us to choose is that we create false expectations. Expectations that we will always win in all axes. But narratives are important because they prepare society to make decisions. And we need honest narratives now to prepare us to take those decisions tomorrow. Only by being clear on the fact that we will need to make decisions and renounce something in order to gain another thing will set us in the right framework.

We should start the conversation on what are we willing to sacrifice or compromise and what not to conserve biodiversity. Indeed, we may discover some sacrifices are not as hard as they look, especially for the average citizen. Maybe we prefer to have one more species of butterfly in the EU than having a few rich people traveling to space for pleasure. Maybe we prefer to eat strawberries only in spring, but have birds migrating through our wetlands. It’s all about educating ourselves and being aware we decide our future, but not selling fairy tales.

Our behavior is heavily influenced by the context we live in. The first step to change behaviors is to create the adequate context, and for me, this context needs an honest narrative that acknowledges trade-offs and prepares us to take informed decisions.


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