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 use uniquely 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 areas that are just as important, but not often realized.
If we want to encourage positive and long lasting change – then we must also be willing to actively invite others into our worlds of environmental and conservation science. However, it is important that we do so in a relatable, gracious, and understandable way.
As scholars, I believe that conflict resolution between humans and our environment will require more than reading research articles and preaching to others. We must also have the desire and determination to consider the thoughts, perceptions, and intricacies of the human populations of which we are dealing with. By using science, technology, creativity, and a caring heart, I believe we will be able to connect and inspire more communities to care for this planet’s species and resources.
Because as much as it is our responsibility to know the science, it is just as much our responsibility to connect creatively with those who don’t.
This brings me to the idea that every environmental/conservation focused degree of learning should also include a new type of class. One that I suggest be titled, Understanding Human Connectivity and How to Employ Strategic Discourse in Environmental Conflict Resolution. Such a class would link together all that a student learns in core Environmental Science classes with the additional research tools necessary for real-world, human-to-human interaction and understanding. It would also focus on the individuality of the student and how their unique strengths can be used to enliven the knowledge they gain. Because no matter what students end up doing with their degrees, they must ultimately be able to influence the hearts and minds of others in the pursuit of conservation.
Just as understanding population dynamics and trophic cascades are important, we must also must recognize that human discourse and the social side of “environmentalism” is equally as valuable. Whether we are striving to solve a pollution problem, conserve an area of land, protect an endangered species, or propose an environmental policy – people are going to be involved. To help reach our greater conservation goals, let’s start studying and understanding how we can influence others.
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 even further to the distinctions of our academic achievements. It is time we start understanding that simply knowing about the science 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.