What does it mean to say “I am a conservationist”?

On whether we can we call ourselves conservationists and what discipline merits the title best.

Last night, at a dinner with a club of self-named ‘explorers’, I was talking with an elderly gentleman who said he’d been a field tropical ecologist for the past 60 years, so I asked if he considered himself a conservationist. To that he retorted that he hates the idea of saying “I am a conservationist” and continued to berate the idea saying it was a ridiculous thing to claim (because it was not specific enough I think – but he wasn’t entirely clear).

A little later he eventually asked about what I do, to which I answered: “I am a conservationist.” He scoffed and groaned and shook his head and asked what I had done to qualify for this role. He appeared disgusted when I told him my first degree was in environmental science and policy, “Did they teach you anything useful in that course? What did they teach you – did you learn anything about ecology?” I told him I had, but the emphasis had been on political science and public policy and as I was starting to explain that people working in conservation need not all be ecologists and conservation requires an understanding of people, politics, social issues and more he stopped listening!

So I doubt I made a good impression on him but I frankly don’t care too much because later as he was  introduced to give a small speech he was referred to as the rudest man in the whole club.