Progress vs. Preservation

Wade Davis (author, anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence) has found himself in the rather unique position of operating somewhere between [so called] ‘capitalist’ and ‘first-nation’ societies. In his interview with George Stroumboulopoulos (2013) he explains that indigenous people aren’t sentimental but they have a mystique of the earth that’s based on the idea that they have responsibilities for it. In our culture, we think more that a mountain as a pile of rock ready to be mined. He suggests it’s not for us to say who’s right or wrong but how the belief systems mediate the interaction between human beings, natural landscape, ecological footprint and the beneficiaries of industry.



He refers to the aboriginal people of Australia (although similar stories could be told around the colonisation of indigenous lands all over the world). When the British turned up in the early 1600s they saw people who looked weird and had primitive technology [as they saw it]. What really offended the British was that they had no interest in improvement or progress. They therefore concluded they weren’t people at all and began to shoot them. What they failed to understand was their entire ethos was not to change the world, but to do the ritual gestures necessary to keep it exactly as it was at the time of it’s creation. If we’d all of followed this devotional trajectory we wouldn’t have put a man on the moon, but we also wouldn’t be talking about climate change and our capacity to affect the life-support systems of the planet.

It’s people like Davis that have started to inform my ethical position; not progress versus preservation, but ‘progress for preservation’, research that negotiates successfully between the two, or makes both equal stakeholders in its investment, outcomes and impact. My wider position is also inspired heavily by who I’d call progressive, socially aware, entrepreneurs of the new world. The things that Elon Musk (Tesla) or Boyan Slat (Ocean Cleanup) are trying to do with their companies, technological innovation and ecological awareness for universal benefit. In a similar way to the British being offended by the aboriginal lack of ‘progress’, I’m offended by high volume, low quality, polluting, disposable products of limited merit.




Strombo (2013) Wade Davis On George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight: EXTENDED INTERVIEW. Available at: (Accessed: 19 Nov 2017)

The Ocean Cleanup (2017) Boyan Slat: How we will rid the oceans of plastic. Available at (Accessed: 2 Nov 2017)

Talmage, A. (1937) Founding of Australia at Sydney Cove [Painting]