Q&A

Chris Dar­win, con­ser­va­tion­ist, 56

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - FRONT - By Penny Durham

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”

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