Learned scholars and respected leaders of society warn that a major environmental change is coming and everyone should prepare. However, heads of state, politicians and wealthy oligarchs argue and bicker, more interested in riches and power than the imminent threat. Some realize that the oncoming change will be accompanied by a host of problems, to which no one has given the necessary consideration. Those who understand the situation try to set up systems to protect against this threat but are constantly having to argue with, and even fight, their own allies. In the end, just as some progress is being made, one of the champions of these vital preparations is stabbed through the heart by his closest colleagues, who stage a coup instead of dealing with the oncoming threat.
Sound familiar? It is of course the plot of Game of Thrones, but could also be a history of most conservation issues, whether it be the threat of DDT, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss or climate change.
Conservationists are like the Night’s Watch.
Conservation biologists (aka the Night’s Watch) are banished to the edges of academia to defend the world from environmental threats, begging for resources and help, while in other parts of academia faculty (aka nobles) fight amongst themselves for power, while administrators (heads of Great Houses) surround themselves by “yes men”, build up their personal power, and hoard resources. How often have in situ conservationists been at meetings or submitted grant proposals, where their hopes for receiving resources were raised high, but then dashed as the powers-that-be turned the situation into an academic “Red Wedding”?
Life in many conservation NGOs is not dissimilar. NGOs (aka bannermen) in the developed world vie for the same pots of benefactor funds, guard their territories, recruit activists in developing countries, appoint expatriate leadership to inform local strategy and priorities, and too often engage in conservation by press release. Indeed, a major NGO, despite success and fame gained from one if its conservation research programs, recently abolished that program almost overnight (not so much a Red Wedding as a red panda).
However, for every devious Lannister, whether cold and calculating Tywin, openly power-hungry Cersei or seemingly honorable, but secretly despicable, Jaime, there is a principled Jon Snow, fighting the good fight in far off places; a resurgent Sansa Stark, using the lessons of her harsh treatment in the world of politics to develop a cunning strategy; a young, fierce Lyanna Mormont, who shames her elders into growing a spine; a determined Tyrion Lannister or Lord Varys, who, despite being ridiculed, ignored or persecuted by his peers, knows nonetheless that he is right, and keeps quietly working away, talking to the right people and showing them the way forward. There is even the occasional Hodor, loyal, uncomplicated, and valiant, who holds back the onslaught of environmental threats (aka the Army of the Dead), at the cost of their career or even their own life!
Yet despite all the intrigue, drama, political machinations, and bloodshed, we still remain (whether biologist, social scientist, policy wonk, resource manager, or conservation practitioner) alert for our Daenerys Targaryen, our visionaries, our bearers of hope and promise…our breakers of chains against the status quo, our mothers of endangered species, our speakers of truth to power.
Conservation (Night’s Watch) Oath
The Sixth Extinction gathers, and now my watch begins.
It shall not end until my death.
I shall leave as small a carbon footprint as I am able.
I shall put conservation above petty politics and rivalries.
I shall not put my ego above thorough science & good conservation practices.
I shall live and die at my post.
I am the protector in the darkness.
I am the monitor in forest, prairie, desert and sea.
I am the shield that guards the realms of living beings.
I pledge my life and honor to Conservation, for this day and all the days to come.
Chris “I Know Nothing” Parsons &
Richard “Not-So-Little-Finger” MacPherson &
Naomi “I Answered The Call” Rose