Conservation’s “Silver Bullet” Hypocrisy

Conservation’s “Silver Bullet” Hypocrisy

Nearly every presentation, workshop, talk or article on conservation solutions I’ve encountered caveats that it’s not a “silver bullet”.

Silver Bullet (noun): Something that acts as a magical weapon. Especially: one that instantly solves a long-standing problem.

I’ve even said it myself.

Behavior change communication is not a silver bullet. It’s meant to complement other efforts like policy and enforcement and management planning and livelihood support and alternatives and so on.

Most of us claim there are NO silver bullets. That we need all these solutions to make an impact.

And that seems pretty accurate and fair.

Complex problems typically need a set of complex solutions.

Complex problems don’t get solved instantaneously.

Complex problems can sometimes become even more complicated as you begin to solve them. With implications and domino effects that could not have been predicted.

WE know how tricky this is. Which is why we repeatedly say there is not ONE solution. There is not a quick fix. That we need all hands on deck.

Enter the hypocrisy

But yet, when a solution begins to gain traction, researchers and conservationists are some of the first to push out articles and quotes saying that it’s not solving the right problem.

Or it’s the wrong solution.

Or it’s too little to make a difference.

We are now experiencing a MOVEMENT around reducing single-use plastics that has spread to audiences we typically have a hard time engaging.

Corporations like McDonald’s and Coke are even getting on board (!!), which has been an even harder audience to mobilize.

Government officials are pushing out policies, fines and bans which, not that long ago, would have been received as “big brother” governing.

So WHY (?!?!) are organizations and individuals in our same field (ostensibly on our same side) putting out statements like this:

  • The new [no-straw-needed] lids [from Starbucks] will also be made of plastic. And that has some environmentalists rolling their eyes. “These lids are going to be made of even more plastic than the straws,” said Dianna Cohen, CEO of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, a California-based environmental group. “It’s kind of ridiculous.” from Banning plastic straws will not be enough


  • “But these bans leave the impression that they solve the plastics pollution problem without much discussion of systemic solutions. As a society, we should think holistically about the products we use and their impacts. We can’t just ban bad products — we must invest in alternatives.” — Mathy Stanislaus, WRI from Banning straws and bags won’t solve our plastic problem


  • “What I found was that sales of garbage bags actually skyrocketed after plastic grocery bags were banned,” says University of Sydney economist Rebecca Taylor. This was particularly the case for small, 4-gallon bags, which saw a 120 percent increase in sales after bans went into effect. from Are Plastic Bag Bans Garbage?

If we say there are no silver bullets, then why do we keep expecting to see one????

None of the above points are technically wrong. But they still cut our own efforts off at the knees.

They don’t celebrate the progress being made.

They seem to ignore that change often happens in incremental steps and phases.

They don’t acknowledge that we’re heading in the right direction.

And worse, it suggests to our audiences that their conservation actions aren’t worth the time or energy.

Let’s do it differently

By celebrating the wins and progress being made.

By openly recognizing that we’re not there yet, while spreading optimism that we CAN get there.

By sending the right kind of positive cues to the media, and everyone else, on how we should be talking about these issues.

By more of this:

“We know that just banning plastic straws will not be enough, but it’s a start,” said Dune Ives, executive director of the environmental nonprofit Lonely Whale. “Maybe you decide today to bring your reusable water bottle or mug with you, or you decide not to buy that cucumber that is wrapped in plastic. Every little bit helps.” also from Banning plastic straws will not be enough .

There are more than enough cynics and skeptics OUT THERE.

We don’t need to also be cynics and critics IN HERE.