Despite aiming to make conservation science and practice more effective, many conservationists default to excessive precaution, advocating conservative actions—or even inaction. The field suffers from an understandable aversion to unintended consequences, especially for approaches involving biotechnology and “next-generation” interventions. We call this default precautionary attitude among conservationists the ethos of restraint and argue for replacing it with an ethos of responsible conservation action. Loosening the ethos of restraint will require (a) more holistically accounting for comparative risks, benefits, and costs of novel approaches; (b) gathering more data on their consequences; (c) engaging in dialogue about intended consequences and conservation values; and (d) pursuing adaptive implementation strategies. Adopting an ethos of responsible conservation action requires grasping that precaution and proaction are not diametrically opposed attitudes. Instead, we must decide what level of precaution or proaction is warranted, and what to do, on a case-by-case basis.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Nature and Landscape Conservation
- Global and Planetary Change
- Environmental Science (miscellaneous)