Today was unexpectedly difficult in some ways, but it reminded me of what I truly want aspiring stewards, conservationists, and planet keepers, to know… There are a million different labels we could put on ourselves: environmentalists, conservationists, activists etc, but I believe it is incredibly important that we don’t segregate or limit ourselves to these titles/academic achievements.
In fact, what I feel we need to become is not something that a label can describe – or that an educational degree can explain. Being an “environmentalist” or “conservationist” might be a part of what that ultimate description entails, but I am learning it is so much more than that.
We have to realize that in order for many of the world’s environmental and wildlife conservation related problems to be solved – we must also become empathetic sociologists, critical thinkers, well-rounded politicians, adaptable leaders, curious creatives, light-hearted comedians, and focused engagement strategists.
While much of our world may exist in a textbook, research journal, or in the passions we feel – we have to realize, as valuable as these tools are, that they are not in and of themselves where the answers lie. They are instead keys that each one of us can uniquely use to open doors of connectivity between the public and real-world conservation concerns.
We can perform all the data analysis we want, get published in every journal, or take classes in botany, hydrology, and so forth – but if we stop there – we risk sacrificing the true power in gaining such knowledge. So it is time to stop allowing labels, classes taken, or degrees earned to describe what we ultimately are. Because I believe if we stop there, we risk preventing further and greater growth into topics that are just as important, but not often realized.
If we want to encourage positive change (which I believe is often why we seek to understand the complexities of the environments around us), then we must also actively invite others into our worlds of science – in a relatable, gracious, and human way. This like any other knowledge, is something that must also be learned.
However, I have discovered that participating in environmental and conservation related conflict resolution does indeed require more than just knowing the facts. We have to also have the desire and determination to consider the thoughts, perceptions, and intricacies of the human populations of which we are dealing with.
As much as it is our responsibility to know the science, it is just as much our responsibility to connect with those who don’t.
This brings me to the idea that every environmental focused degree of learning should also include a new type of class. One that I suggest be called, the importance of understanding human connectivity and how to employ strategic discourse in environmental conflict resolution. Such a class would link together all that we learn in our core science classes with the tools necessary for real-world, human to human interaction. It would focus on the strengths each of us have that can fuel the knowledge we gain. Because no matter what we end up doing with our degrees, ultimately we must be able to influence the hearts and minds of humans in the name of the environment.
And as much as we may not like it, or it may not be as fun as studying wildlife population dynamics, we have to accept that human discourse and the social side of “environmentalism” is equally as important as the rest. Whether we are striving to solve a pollution problem, conserve an area of land, protect an endangered species, or propose an environmental based policy – people are going to be involved. Let’s start studying and understanding that.
It’s time we get our shiny BS, MS, or PhD boots dirty by tackling the feat of conservation engagement. It’s a different world than what we find in most textbooks. One with many variables, plenty of room for mistakes, and that follows different rules from those we are more familiar with. But I believe it is where the life giving blood will begin to flow between the heart of conservation science and the rest of our work.
I think it is time we add to the distinctions of our academic achievements. It is time we start understanding that simply knowing about the science, acing a test, or preaching from a textbook is not enough.
If we are going to create a world where coexistence between nature, wildlife, and humans exists – then we have to bring our research, knowledge, and “labels” to life. And I believe we all have a unique way of being able to do so simply by taking things one step further. But if we stop short in our box of academic achievements and titles – we will remain at the door of progress – watching through its windows as opportunities for engagement, problem solving, and human connectivity pass us by.
Let’s get to work.