Tag Archives: australia

The Perfect as the Enemy of the Good in Sustainable Living

Eating beef isn't great for the environment. But ca someone who occasionally snacks on cows still be in favour of conservation and other ecological causes?

Eating beef isn’t great for the environment. But can someone who occasionally snacks on cows still be in favour of conservation and other ecological causes?

Today I want to talk about a tweet. Or more accurately, the attitude to sustainability that this tweet represents. It occurred during the recent Ecological Society of Australia conference, and went roughly thus*.

Good to see only vegetarian food at ESA2018. We know that it’s not possible to be truly in support of conservation unless you cut meat out of your diet.

Now for starters, I want to make it clear that I am 100% in support of eating vegetarian. For those of us fortunate enough to be living in relative affluence, vegetarian diets are easy to maintain, generally cheaper (based on personal experience), and have a proven positive impact on the climate. I’m not completely vegetarian, but I take a lot of steps to minimise my diet’s climate footprint. It doesn’t take much.

What I am not in support of is the idea that a person cannot possibly be a proponent of conservation and other ecological causes, or that their other efforts in support of a better world are futile, if one facet of their life does not align perfectly with minimising their climate impact. This attitude can come in many forms, from the above tweet, to your friends who yell “HA, hypocrite!” when they discover a stray plastic bag in your room or see you take a taxi instead of biking one day.

To underline my frustration with this attitude, let’s look at a now somewhat-famous study that came out in mid-2017. The paper was a meta-analysis which drew up a list of lifestyle changes in developed countries which had the highest carbon footprint. You can read a few summaries of the paper here and here, and the paper itself here.

In the study, switching to a vegetarian (or ‘plant-based’, as the study refers to it) diet was listed as the step with the sixth-highest impact. To highlight the problems with the attitude I’m arguing against here, let’s rephrase the above tweet using the step with the third-highest.

Good to see that everyone put the effort in and drove to ESA2018. We know that it’s not possible to be truly in support of conservation unless you find an alternative to flying wherever physically possible.

If this were true, then there would be a lot less attendees at conferences like this every year. Now for the step with the highest.

Good to see more non-parent ecologists at ESA2018. We know that it’s not possible to be truly in support of conservation unless you don’t have children.

No comment needed, I feel.

Now admittedly, the two above are substantially more impactful on an individual’s lifestyle that turning vegetarian. But I know a few ecologists who have several children, and I would never dream of accusing them of not being in support of ecological causes.

Furthermore, I believe the propagation of the idea that anything less than perfect is insufficient can dissuade people from making lifestyle changes. The following quote is from Voltaire, and I think it applies here quite well.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Whether you’re an environmentalist, a conservationist, or an accountant, if you want to support the environment, absolutely you should encourage lifestyle changes to help reduce our impact on the planet. But please, let’s not spread the idea that anything less than total commitment is worthless.

*The tweet itself has been somewhat paraphrased. I do not wish for the ecologist who wrote it to be googled or messaged for obvious reasons. I have been assured by colleagues that they are a brilliant ecologist, and by no means intend to disparage their person by my disagreement with this one opinion.

Lessons From a Long History of Fish Invasions

The European Perch, a species brought for angling by earlier settlers (

The European Perch, brought for angling by earlier settlers, has had severe effects on a number of native Australian fish (Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

Transport pathways shape the biogeography of alien freshwater fishes in Australia (2018) Garcia-Diaz et al., Biodiversity Research, DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12777

The Crux

Invasive species are a problem in every type of ecosystem, be it by reduction of local diversity, or negative effects on a region’s economy or human health. Freshwater rivers and lakes are no exceptions to this. Invasive fish have impacts on local habitats which include outcompeting or just flat out eating local species, changing a habitat’s entire structure (say by clearing away aquatic vegetation or increasing pH levels) and the reorganisation of the entire population of a lake or river, from the birds that nest on the shoreline to the tiny planktonic species that are the base food source of the entire ecosystem. Once an invasive species is established, it can be impossible to remove.

So naturally, understanding where and how invasive species are likely to strike is of huge benefit. This paper tries to map that out, using Australia as a case study. It’s a great example; Australia has a long history with invasive species, and this study alone looks at 33 different types of invasive fish.

Read more