The “C” Word

NO! Not that word, get your mind out of the gutter… I’m talking about the word Conservation. Geography Awareness Week has been great but the icing on the cake has been the WWF Fuller Symposium I attended the last two days. I’ve learned so much and the only way I can express that is to tell you that over two days I heard 26 speakers and took 17 pages of notes! I had a great time, learned a lot, and now I’m feeling very inspired to, yet again, save the world. I won’t bore you with all of the notes I took because I know people are not as fascinated by sustainability and the environment as I am (I think I border obsessiveness) but I do think the repeated messages are important to the future of us as a race, the biodiversity on this planet, and the planet itself.

A topic that came up, by almost every speaker I might add, was the need for more science and more data. According to Wolfram Alpha, the field of conservation science is growing about 6%/year. Having more data will allow scientists to see if certain forests are recovering as expected, how many different animals there are in a certain park by sampling feces, checking out the toxicology of a river, whether hydropower and damming are creating enough energy to be worth it, when the best estimate is that the last polar bear will go extinct and why, and so on. There will be a huge need to fill in this gap of information with accurate and precise data. This information will be important to policy and decision-making and with this information comes the need for collaboration.

Repeatedly, people brought up collaboration. Countries need to collaborate with one another to create change; one example of this is the Jordan-Israel Peace Park. These two countries teamed up to create a Peace Park to help migratory birds across this area, which is such a great idea because two countries now have a stake in seeing that the park is successful. Another area of collaboration that was discussed was that scientists need to be in communication with policy makers and the policy makers need to be in communication with people and communities. There needs to be cooperation from every level and every area to make a positive impact on the planet. Conservation needs to be a part of the planning process not a detail we go back and try to fix afterwards – this is clearly a route that isn’t working for us.

The last topic I want to point out was that all the science and data does no good if we can’t get people to change. But you can’t force people to change, you can’t force data and facts at people, you can’t convince people to change unless you make it personal for them. People connect with stories and journeys and learning how they make an impact or can make less of an impact on a personal level. One speaker, Randy Olson, in particular mentioned that we need to be less scientific with conservation and be more artistic with it – poems, videos, sitcoms, etc… This is in sharp contrast to the second point I mentioned above, but what Randy Olson meant was that we need to be able to communicate the science of conservation.We need to make conservation available to the masses and make it less boring. There are no exciting movies on conservation and the one real focused movie out there, The Inconvenient Truth, isn’t even that great. It was profound at the time it was produced, but it only made an impact at the moment it was produced because it was “sciency” which was great for right after the five hurricanes hit the United States – but it wasn’t personal. As a future teacher, this would be a great opportunity to get students involved personally by writing a poem or creating a story or making a short video to post to YouTube. The possibilities are endlessly beautiful to make it more personal for people and make conservation more exciting.

So those were the top three repeated topics. There were many other intriguing speakers and wonderfully thought-provoking topics presented and I wish I could share all of them but I would recommend checking out the WWF’s website to see a full list of speakers. AND I would of course love to discuss everything I learned!

My parting thought: conservation has to be an everyone thing, not a some people thing.

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