Chris Darwin, conservationist, 56
On your Darwin Challenge app, people can log their meat-free days and see the effects on the environment and their health. Why an app? I started wondering how I could inspire humanity to reduce its meat consumption – it’s a big ask for such a dedicated predator. I met behavioural psychologists and the idea of the app came up. When my great-great-grandfather Charles Darwin wrote On The Origin of Species, the most powerful form of communication was the book. Today, it’s this little phone.
Your chief concern is with the mass extinction of species. How does this app fit? To start with I created nature reserves with a charity, Bush Heritage Australia. Then I realised all I was effectively doing was saving one bit of forest but moving the demand for grazing land somewhere else. So I thought, I’ve got to reduce demand for meat as well. If we can do that we can reduce the price of grain – about a third of the world’s grain is fed to livestock. In Australia, annual meat consumption is about 90kg a person, an increase of about 3kg in the past three years. In the EU and US, consumption has fallen.
If everyone in Australia took one day a week off eating meat, what would happen? In a year we’d save $1 billion, 130,000 cattle, 66 million chickens, a billion fish and prawns, an area of forest the size of two ACTs, and – this one really blew my mind – a quarter of a million Olympic swimming pools of water. And we’d live a cumulative 91,000 years longer.
Charles Darwin was far from a vegetarian – he and his colleagues even ate specimens they studied on their travels, right? He actually once ate an owl! Bizarre.
Has your name ever been a burden? Admittedly, my nickname at school was “the Missing Link”. But it’s a bit like winning Lotto without having entered. It’s a wonderful boost in life. The greatest thing Charles has given me, and he’s given me quite a lot, is his thinking system.
You like to quote from his autobiography: “Pay special attention to verifiable evidence that contradicts one of your beliefs.” Why is that important? It’s Charles’s golden rule. If you can get yourself in a state of mind where you suppress confirmation bias, the “unthinkable” reflex, not only does the world become endlessly fascinating but you can become a trendsetter instead of a follower.
You used to work in advertising. What brought you to Australia and the Blue Mountains, where you live? In the ’80s I jumped at the chance to come out to write an article for an ad industry magazine. Then I got a job. Then I had a crisis, reorganised my life and lived with a couple of groovy climbing guides. I became one, and did it for 20 years.
Are you optimistic about the future? In the next 35 years an extra two billion people will live on the planet. There’s so much we’ll have to change to accommodate them but it’ll be really exciting and positive. We will improve our civilisation because we are the most adaptable animal to have ever lived.
my nickname at school was “the Missing Link”