When I was a kid and I first learned about all the environmental disasters happening in the world (climate change, holes in the ozone, pollution, mounting piles of indecomposable rubbish, etc) I was completely horrified and petrified. I was horrified that our species was responsible for these terrible things and I was horrified that every human being on the planet wasn’t up in arms doing everything they could to stop it. I was petrified that all living things on the planet were going to die as a result of humanity’s greed, including my family and I.
As scared as I was, I felt compelled to do something to help and I felt optimistic. I spent my childhood recycling and preaching about the environment to anyone who would listen. I was the president of the Eco-club at my high school. I studied environmental science at university so I could be part of the solution. My adult life so far has been spent working and researching in the field of conservation.
And now here I am in my thirties, quite educated and involved in conservation and environmental science and sadly, I think I am becoming pessimistic about our planet’s future. This transition is a culmination of several things.
1) It still it feels like people (for the most part) blindly ignore environmental issues. Recently many government policies from the US especially seem to be based on decisions that inflict serious damage to our planet. Decades later and I’m still in disbelief that despite scientific advances and improved communication systems, the majority of people on this planet do not seem to be overly concerned about the environment and governments are not doing everything possible to protect it. WTF! The environment is life people! It’s everything we need to survive and humans treat this planet like crap.
2) The more I learn about conservation or human population trends the more depressed I feel. There are scientific publications (including several of ours) coming out all the time predicting or confirming the extinction of incredible wildlife all over the world. This news makes people sad and even angry, but it still feels like not enough is being done on the ground. Not enough money or support is being invested in conservation.
3) Finally, I personally feel a bit lost post-PhD. I spent the past 5.5 years completely engulfed in conservation work and research. Now post-PhD I’m ready to sink my teeth into a new project, to fight the conservation fight with gusto, but finding the right job or sourcing funding for research can be a slow and discouraging experience.
Wow, mega big sigh. Take a few sighs if you need. Sigh, sigh, sigh. If an environmentalist feels this way, what does that mean for the planet?
The point is coming up just now so don’t jump off the nearest cliff yet.
I, and we as a society, need to drum up some conservation optimism because that’s what my eight-year-old self would have wanted. Optimistic environmental doers were the people I was looking for as a kid. Yes, everything looks pretty bleak but you need hope and determination to win a battle. As a wildlife enthusiast, a scientist, an environmental citizen, and a mother, I am going to start rebuilding my conservation optimism.
There is a study that suggests that positive messages are more likely to motivate people to spread positivity and take action than negative ones are. There are positive conservation stories out there, really there are.
Here’s a few recent ones to reassure you:
– poaching is down in Luangwa Valley, Zambia because Community Markets for Conservation has been supporting local people in farming schemes and giving poachers alternative livelihood options.
– the lion guardian programme in East Africa has encouraged the Maasai to replace traditional lion hunts with guardianship.
– a breeding population of tigers was unexpectedly found in eastern Thailand recently.
– global tiger numbers increased in 2016 for the first time in nearly a century.
– the all female Black Mamba anti-poaching unit based near where we live has reduced poaching in a reserve in Greater Kruger to almost zero.
Here are some people who inspire me:
– My ever-optimistic-never-give-up husband who is my constant inspiration.
– My mum who composted, gardened, recycled, reused, and bought non-harmful products.
– Noggs’ preschool class, the Earthtots (who are aged between 1 and 3 years old). They sort their rubbish and recycle it in bins. They go on nature walks and learn to protect the environment.
– Several research assistants I supervised who have gone onto do amazing and inspirational conservation work.
– People who choose to have small families or no children to lower their environmental impact.
– People like Jane Goodall who share their environmental enthusiasm relentlessly.
Yesterday was Earth Day and the fact that such a day exists is cause for celebration and optimism. But this Earth Day especially there was a lot of organised environmental optimism going around. Oxford University, the Interdiscipinary Centre for Conservation Science, ZSL and the Durrell Institute hosted a summit on conservation optimism last week. All over the world thousands of people joined marches for science to stand up against funding cuts to the sciences and environment agencies. It was amazing to see so many people getting involved and speaking out. Earth Day 2017 is a reminder that there are enough people who care – three of them live in our house.