Conservation Needs Anger Management


What makes conservation folks such an angry bunch? Why do we end up sitting in bars, where we drink too much, and loudly argue about abstract conservation issues? Why are we always bitching about our colleagues, our donors, our bosses, our staff, and, of course, the government? Why is there so much infighting in the conservation world?

I have only ever worked in conservation in Indonesia, so my views of the world are somewhat biased. But here, we are a pretty irate bunch. Heated debate is part of day-to-day life here. It infiltrates my working day, seeps into my sleep and reverberates over the dinner table.

A lot of this is frustration. I am angry because, after working in Indonesia for a long time, tangible conservation successes still seem far away. But there is more to it.

Because why would we fight and argue among ourselves? Part of that surely is that we still don’t know the answer to the big conservation problems. Everyone has their own pet strategies. And in a world where few things have been shown to work, every approach has potential merit.

So you get all these different people. Extreme green NGO types, moderate greenies, government people, aid project staff, industry environmentalists, you name it. Each of them will have their own ideas on how to solve conservation issues here. None of them, however, a proven answer.

Throw in some of that idealism that brought us out here in the first place, and you have a wonderful cauldron in which all those pent up frustrations, swallowed pride, hurt feelings, suppressed anger and unfulfilled hopes can ferment.

If high blood pressure leads to early death, I predict that conservationists live relatively short lives. To hang in there longer, we need to manage our anger better and stop being so terrible righteous; being seen as bickering fools can’t possibly help our cause very much.

But even more important, we need to start getting it right in conservation. Prevent further slaughter of orangutans, tigers and elephants. Stop illegal deforestation.

Only then will I be able to let go of my perpetual anger.

(Image: Swans fighting. Credit: Today is a good day through a Creative Commons license.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. Welcome to the North American mindset. We’re too concerned about being “right” rather than doing right. Everybody has their own idea on what is sacredly green, to a point where they outdo the religiosity (good word, eh?) of the Pharisees described in the New Testament. Yesterday’s blog, where people were arguing over whether it was green or not to drive a scooter…. what a waste of time and breath! Don’t focus on the actions, focus on the thoughts and lifestyle! If you live a life where the environment plays a concern, you will do your best to conserve the environment around you. Or you could go to a bar, pick a fight with somebody, and get roaring drunk and pass out in a puddle of your own bodily fluids….talk about pollution, eh?
    Just my thoughts on it. 🙂

  2. If you are angry and fighting for conservation, things are as they are.
    If you are not angry and fighting for conservation, things are as they are.

    While the above may be true, this only applies to you and infighting and bickering is 50% of the battle while undoing, stopping or repairing damage is the other 50%.

    I believe your happiness will not come after success, but that success will come after your happiness, or rather a shift of your and your colleagues being that trains to take advantage of serendipity and collaboration.

    Be motivated like our hair is on fire, but be happy, seek calm and contentness with every action, it will sway others to live long with you to see some success while the others will digest from the inside out as giant ulcers.

    My goal hear is neither to be trite or obfuscatory, I truly wish your success and a long life to see the fruits of your efforts.

  3. I agree, sometimes it’s easy to get so angry when you see what is going on in the world. However, there is never only one solution to a problem, life is more messy and complicated than that. What each of us can do is get involved in the way that works for you. Sitting around and complaining won’t solve anything. I have visited a lot of places in the world and I believe the work you and TNC are doing in East Kalimantan to be some of the best I have experienced. Keep up the good work!!

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