Taboo and other ‘t’-words

Whatever you to, don’t mention the ‘t’-word! Why? Because the moment you do (and the ‘t’ word is ‘triage’) someone will respond by asking you: “So, if you’re a supporter of TRIAGE, which species are you prepared to give up on?”

It’s true – the idea of conservation ‘triage’ has become a bit of a taboo in scientific, political and public discussions because as soon as it’s invoked proponents are always asked to nominate which species they are going to ‘stop trying to save’ – ‘to give up on’. Because isn’t that was triage is about? We have to prioritise, focus on those species we can save and withdraw our support from those we can’t.

I find this simplification of the ‘triage’ debate down to picking winners and losers very frustrating. And my biggest frustration with this line is its insincere and naive starting assumption: that the system we currently use (an approach without ‘triage’) is effectively conserving all species (that we are not giving up on any). I find it frustrating because this assumption is horribly false. We are witnessing a biodiversity catastrophe. The existing resources allocated to the problem are demonstrably inadequate (by an order of magnitude or more) and we are not saving everything. Triage isn’t the only answer but it’s a lot more honest and effective than the existing status quo.

Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s talk about some of the challenges of conservation triage. For starters, it’s a lot more that choosing between species. It’s also about considering investments in conserving ecosystems and genes, though how these measures of biodiversity are incorporated continues to be challenging. In this issue of Decision Point we demonstrate that it is possible to look beyond species and discuss several pieces of research which examine how genetic information and an ecosystems frame can contribute to more effective decision making.

So, be brave, consider the evidence, and let’s start making more effective environmental decisions (regardless of what we call it).

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