Conservation Conversations

by - April 22, 2019

I have been thinking a lot recently about just how bloody hard conservation is. In the wake of the Notre Dame fire, Jonathan Kolby from National Geographic went viral for a statement he made comparing the fire to the battles faced on conservation. 

I hope it goes without saying but, the parallels to the fire in no way diminish my deep sadness for the people of Paris, and all who felt a connection to the cathedral. Everyone has their place that makes them feel happy and safe, and reminds them of wonderful memories. To see that place burn is a horrible thing, and I completely get that.

This is Jonathan's quote, if you haven't seen it:

His words really got to me because he is right. As people who care deeply for the environment, we are watching it burn slowly and torturously every day. I am a positive person, and I try hard to be because I do believe there is no point wasting energy on being negative or mad at the world. Obviously, we all have bad days and that's fine, but I try to find good in things and not worry about something until I have to. I think it's easier to be happier if you look at the world in a positive light. 

This is hard sometimes in conservation because there are so many wicked problems coming at you from every angle. We are heading into a sixth mass extinction. We are heading towards a climatic catastrophe. We are so close to causing irreparable damage to this planet, and often it feels like no one cares. 

Nature has always, and will always be, my greatest source of happiness. It is where I feel happy and safe, 'my Notre Dame'. When I think of the times I've felt happiest or most at peace, they are almost all outdoors or involving wildlife. I think this is true of most conservationists, and a lot of other people too. So in some ways, it's easy to remain positive in conservation because you just have to think about what you're fighting for. 

Conservation is a value-laden discipline. Some people probably think that's a bad thing. I can see why to a degree: if you're too emotionally invested in something it can be hard to step back and make rationale decisions. However, I think what makes conservation successful is that it is a value-laden discipline. If conservationists didn't care as much as they do, nothing would get done. 

I find it really hard when people don't care as much as I do. This really isn't great because I am extremely passionate and it's rather unreasonable of me to expect everyone to exude the same level of passion as I do. This is a fault on me, not everyone else. It's something I'm working on for myself, but I think Jonathan Kolby touched on this is a beautiful way that has stuck with me. 

You don't have to care as much as I do, but you should care. 

I think herein lies the frustration Jonathan was getting at. "We're surrounded by burning cathedrals built across millennia and no one seems to care." This line broke me a little. I honestly had goosebumps and I didn't know what to say/think. I completely feel what he is feeling. It was a painful truth I wasn't ready for. 

But then I thought about it some more. People do care. They really do. A lot. It was not just conservationists or employees of NatGeo that were making similar comparisons. I saw Jonathan's quote shared by tonnes of people who day-to-day have nothing to do with conservation. Our Planet (now streaming on Netflix) is having a similar impact. People are watching it and feeling passionate and driven.

This is so so important, and I really hope it is not lost. The problem is in translating that emotion into action.

The cynic in me finds it hard not to think that this is just "today's news" and tomorrow something else will come along, and all these people who read/shared his quote and felt something, or feel awakened by Our Planet, will go back to their lives and not really give it another thought. 

As someone who has decided to dedicate their life to conservation, this hurts me. I am only 22 so that might seem like a dramatic statement, or a little premature, but I am not studying this masters for a laugh: I fully intend to remain in this field for life. Plus, I actively try to live my day-to-day life as sustainably as possible. I am also fully aware that there are hundreds of issues worldwide that I may be ignorant of. Obviously I try my best to be clued in on what's going on in the world, and for me, yes climate change and conservation are the stand out issues. But that's not true of everyone, and of course that's okay. 

What is hard for conservationists, or at least for me, is when people speak empty words, and do nothing. 

Maybe I'm being unfair? Maybe sharing memes or quotes about the struggles of climate change and conservation is doing something? We all know public opinion can be a major force in driving change, and so merely supporting Jonathan's argument on instagram is a step in the right direction. 

But is it enough? I don't think it is. 

It would be unreasonable for me to ask you all to drop what you're doing and apply for a job in conservation, so I won't do that (but if you're feeling inspired you have my full support). However, what I do ask is, if you do care: do more. Don't just talk about it, and when you are talking about it, talk to people who don't care, or who don't know enough. 

It's so lovely and wholesome being surrounded by like-minded people, but these aren't the people we need to listen. We could all sit around the fire talking about what wonderful people we are and how we're saving the planet; and bond over how much we hate oil companies and rhino poachers and have a jolly good time. But that's achieving nothing. 

I think this stream of consciousness born from Jonathan's quote has forced me to realise all these things I was feeling. How lonely  and frustrating conservation can feel. How it can seem like a losing battle. How many of our goals may be unachievable, or at least rely on so many external factors that we can't rely on (*cough* politicians). 

I do honestly believe we can have a green future. I don't think all hope is lost. I don't accept global warming will increase more than 2 degrees. I don't accept that rhinos, polar bears, and tigers will go extinct in my lifetime. Call me naive, call me a dreamer, call me a snowflake if you really must (although please don't, I really cannot stand that term). There are ways to tackle climate change and there are ways to conserve biodiversity. They just need to be done. 

Admittedly a lot of this does rest on the shoulders of governments worldwide. Climate change protests have been gaining momentum, and news coverage. I know protests can be a controversial topic, but there is growing frustration towards the inaction of the government to do anything and protests help us start conversations. 

Pressure needs to be put on the government to do more in tackling environmental issues. It is plain truth that not enough is being done. 

As I've mentioned, there are hundreds of issues worldwide that also need more attention. It's not just extinction and climate change. For me, the reason these two stand out are because they will impact everyone. Climate change does not discriminate based on gender, age, religion, sexuality. We will all be impacted, albeit not equally. People in developing nations will be disproportionately worse of: the cruelest irony. 

The second reason they stand out for me is because they are largely man-made. We have manufactured ourselves a devastating, unsustainable, and almost irreversible disaster. Would the world be a better place without people in it? Yes.. no.. maybe.. I don't know! It's really not for me to say. We're here now. We have a chance to fix things. We can take it, but not solely with words: with action too. 

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