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Conservationists hardly conserve more than, oh, economists

Commentary: A new Cambridge University study says those who know more about conservation don't necessarily act on their knowledge.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


CT Residents Hold Vigil Mourning US Withdrawal From Paris Climate Accord

The pursuit is noble, but the experts aren't alway more noble than the rest of us.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Trying to save the world is hard.

I'm not even sure it's worth it. Stephen Hawking, for one, thinks we have at best 100 years left anyway.

Still, science has made some people extremely conscious about whether their very existence is bad for the environment.

But what about those conservationists? Are they setting an example? Do they take fewer flights? Do they eat less meat, have fewer pets and generally act as apogees of world-saving?

Some conservation scientists at the Cambridge University and the University of Vermont decided to see.

The results of their just-published research, however, may have sobered their souls.

They compared the conservationist behavior of conservation scientists with those of medics and, perish the idea, economists.

Having examined the questionnaired thoughts of 734 academics -- 300 of them conservationists -- the experts endured difficult conclusions.

"The conservationists we sampled have a slightly lower overall environmental footprint than economists or medics, but this varies across behaviors," they said. 

Conservationists fly a little less, eat slightly less meat and generally recycle more. However, they "don't differ in how they travel to work, and own more pets than do economists or medics."

So while companies like Apple publish their environment reports and say they're striving to do better, conservationists may not be very good at what they espouse. 

Worse was this: "Conservationists also score no better than economists on environmental knowledge and knowledge of pro-environmental actions."

That must hurt. 

Talking of rising higher, conservationists take on average nine flights a year. 

Look, I know we're supposed to mock climate activists like Leonardo DiCaprio when they jet in and out of, say, picking up an environmental award, but these academics are supposed to be the examples for us all. 

If they don't even know any more than economists about the environment, then we're surely all doomed.

The researchers explained -- and yes, they did use the word "hypocrisy" -- that conservationists seem to cherrypick their areas of conservation just like the rest of us. 

"While it may be hard to accept, we have to start acknowledging that increased education alone is perhaps not the panacea we would hope," said Professor Andrew Balmford, the study's lead author, on the Cambridge University website.

Sadly, I find it easy to accept. Humans are all hypocrites. 

One of the study authors tried to spin this truth positively. 

The University of Vermont's Brendan Fisher told the Cambridge website: "I don't think conservationists are hypocrites. I think that we are human, meaning that some decisions are rational, and others, we rationalize."

And part of being a hypocrite, some might mutter, is finding persuasive ways to make ourselves feel better about what we do and who we are.

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