What’s Wrong with The World: From a Conservationist’s Diary – Part 2

While everyone is responding to a stimulus, is it our fate to perish? PC: Meelika Marzzarella, Source: Unsplash

(Part II of a two-part series)

Come to think of it – globally, countries have institutionalised election funding and corporations have nothing to complain about. We know why, but what’s the harm in putting it down?

Corporations need a better bottom line year after year. Any CEO’s tenure is decided by that metric. If a company does not make profit, then no one invests in it and stock prices fall, and when stock prices fall, no one invests in the company. This leads to people losing their jobs and ultimately, businesses capsize. So, corporations must get people to consume more, and then provide for this consumption by extracting resources.

Capitalism provides access not only to essential commodities but also to resources and power. It is no surprise that it helps to keep the facade that everything is thriving. Afterall, it provides the means for all to respond to the stimulus.

Does it mean that while everyone is responding to a stimulus, it is our fate to perish? The answer is an emphatic NO. This has always been the case. In very initial stages, kingdoms tried to govern using law. However, law has limitations; it is not meant to govern, but it is a great tool for tackling greed. No matter what we do, there will always be those 2% insensitive people who will act only in self-interest and the law can take care of them. But it cannot tackle those who form the. People will look to hoard, politicians will seem to lack the will power, and corporations will appear greedy.

If one looks at us as, say, a Martian, they will realise that it is our dominant strategy as it enables us to survive, grow, and reproduce. The rules of the game make players choose between what is right and what is convenient and result into environmental degradation, a grave negative externality of our actions.

The desired outcome is development without compromising the ecosystems and ensuring that ecosystem services stay intact. Hence, we must change the rules of this game in such a way that the dominant strategy of each leads to this desired outcome.

When I started thinking and discussing this, it sounded like gibberish to many. Jhoot kyun bolun, kabhi kabhi to mujhe bhi aise he lagta tha! However, I’ve worked on this concept over five years and have some ideas which seem to have some meat in them (my apologies to vegetarians and vegans, but I am sure it would make sense to you).

We really need to rethink this conversation around conservation. By that I don’t mean to say conservation actions taken now should be stopped or are useless. I only mean that we need to think beyond the conventional methods.

We will have to change the incentives for everyone. Humans by nature are short-term, profit-maximising agents, (basically gadhe hain! No offence meant to the animal; the phrase is due to my lack of command of the language). We need to weave in long-term orientation, for which, we need to create structures that avoid the tragedy of the commons. What does that entail?

We will have to work across all levels from the central government to the individual. We must understand their current stimuli, aspirations and incentives, and the credible threats to them. For this, we must collect extensive, country-level data meticulously and analyse it using robust, cutting-edge science. We also need to review our policies and laws and based on the data analyse, tweak them to incentivise both conservation and a dominant strategy for each player leading to conservation and regeneration of ecosystems.

Such an exercise will set up some new and some rejigged equilibria. At governance level, the frameworks of the centre, states and local government bodies will need to formulate new contracts.

Getting back to my original question – what is wrong with the world? – I say, nothing. We must stop putting people, corporations, and governments in ‘good’ and ‘bad’ boxes. Instead, let’s think of them as actors, who respond to a stimulus.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us how stimulus can turn the world on its head and, in fact, bring it to standstill. Of course, there will be greedy individuals who will violate these new systems, but they would be the 2% among us, and for them, there will be the law.

There is no doubt that we need to increase the network of protected areas, but there is a limitation to this in our populous country. We do not want paper sanctuaries. With more than 75% forests and, for all practical purposes, all marine areas unprotected, we really need to rethink conservation and protection.

At the Wildlife Conservation Trust, we have been working on these issues for the last five years. Under our ‘Conservation Behaviour’ vertical, we’ve combined ecology, economics, psychology, statistics, and social sciences to come up with an empirically driven understanding of conservation behaviour and evidence-based policy interventions.

Wohoo! I’m patting myself on my back: I’ve managed to use all the fancy buzzwords of the development sector in one line. However, honestly, this is a sincere effort to rethink conservation and attempt something that has never been done before. 

(Read Part I of the two-part series here)

Rushikesh Chavan

Rushikesh Chavan is an ecosystems conservationist who has been working in the field for the past two decades. He currently works at the Wildlife Conservation Trust.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.


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