Today was unexpectedly difficult in some ways, but it reminded me of what I truly want aspiring stewards, conservationists, professors, and planet keepers to know.
I have learned that there are a million different labels we could use to describe ourselves: environmentalists, conservationists, activists, and more. But I believe it is incredibly important that we don’t define our abilities based on these titles and/or academic achievements.
In fact, who we are is not something that any one label can describe or that an educational degree can affirm. Being an “environmentalist” or a “conservationist” might be a part of what we do, but collectively we are so much more than either.
We must realize that in order for many of the world’s environmental and wildlife conservation challenges to be solved – we must also become empathetic sociologists, adaptable leaders, curious creatives, critical thinkers, light-hearted friends, and focused engagement strategists.
It is no doubt that much of our understanding stems from a textbook, a research journal, or from what we believe. And as valuable as these resources are, they are not in and of themselves where all of the answers lie. Rather, they are tools that can be used to open new doors of connectivity between the public and conservation. Tools most effectively used when accompanied with what makes each of us unique and valuable; our personalities, our experiences, and our gifts.
Often as scholars, we can perform all the data analysis we want, have our research published, and receive academic awards year long. But if we stop there, we risk sacrificing the true power in gaining such knowledge. Because I believe we shouldn’t allow classes taken or degrees earned to describe what we ultimately are. There is so much more to be done in our field not often affirmed by a label or our professional status.
To encourage public involvement and lasting change, we must also be willing to actively invite others into our often intimidating 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 pointing out the facts. We must also have the desire and determination to consider the thoughts, perceptions, and intricacies of the human populations and communities of which we are trying to help. Because as much as it is our responsibility to know the science, it is just as much our responsibility to connect whole-heartedly 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 and interests can be used to enliven the knowledge they gain. Because when pursuing conservation conflict resolution, we must not forget to the power in understanding the opinion, circumstances, and resource availability of all stakeholders involved. We must also not underestimate the value our own talents and personalities can inherently provide.
Just as understanding population dynamics and trophic cascades are important, we must also 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 the heart of people and learning new methods of change that can begin from within.
And for us professors, it is 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 or classrooms. 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 feel 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 is not enough. We must bridge the gap between what we know and where the communication problem lies.
Because I believe if we are going to create a world where coexistence between nature, wildlife, and humans exists – then we must bring our research, knowledge, and “labels” to life. And I believe that we all have a unique way of being able to do so based on our own individual gifts and personalities.
We must not be afraid to step out of our safe world of academic titles and bring a new method of engagement to the conservation table. Otherwise, we risk remaining at the door of progress – watching through its windows as opportunities for engagement, problem solving, and human connectivity pass us by.