TED Conversations

Lauren Hawkins


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From ivory tower to prison cell: How can we bring conservation efforts to the public?

Conservation and other environmental movements have long been viewed as the initiatives of a select group of people. Rare, an international conservation group, seeks to change conservation policy by turning it into a movement that derives support from the public. As there website states, “conservationists must become as skilled in social change as in science; as committed to community-based solutions as national and international policy making.”

How can this be accomplished? The Sustainable Prisons Project in Washington State offers a novel approach to Rare’s mission. This project, a partnership between The Evergreen State College and Washington State Department of Corrections, allows inmates across Washington to participate in environmental education, sustainable practices, and science research projects. Learn more about this program at http://blogs.evergreen.edu/sustainableprisons/stories/prisons-with-nature/.

Creative conservation initiatives like the Sustainable Prisons Project help both the conservation movement and the participants of the program. How can we expand this project to other parts of the global community in order to fully bring conservation to the forefront of political and social discussions?


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    Jun 4 2012: Perhaps a good target would be elementary school aged children. If conservation was integrated into the curriculum of early public school education there would be knowledge about the issue at a very influential time in development. Getting the seed of the idea planted into a child's head early on allows it a longer time to grow.
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      Jun 5 2012: I agree with Kirsten. I think that starting the discussion about the importance of the environment needs to begin at a young age if we want to optimize public interest and support for environmentally protective policies. Additionally, I think that it is important that we realize that there are a lot of places in America and internationally where concern for the environment is simply not on the radar of the community. For instance, a friend of mine lives in Arkansas and he bikes to his local university to teach at the law school every weekday. Recently, there was an initiative put forth by an environmental group on campus to pass a ban on bottled water at the university. When my friend surveyed his classes to see how they felt about this, most of his soon-to-be lawyer students replied that banning disposable bottles would be a lot of work and that it would just be easier to not ban them. He told me that this sort of attitude was indicative of the university and even the city that he lives in; he characterized the parking lot at the school as "a sea of trucks in which my bike hides."

      My point is that regardless of the cool initiatives like this sort of prison reform that Washington is doing, it can be difficult to begin any discussion about the environment in some places and that tackling the first step of general awareness and then turning public indifference of rejection into support is a valuable change that is probably necessary before we can institute nation-wide green reform.
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      Jun 5 2012: I agree that it should start with education at a young age but it is important that the conservation education is appropriate. Educators are finding that many third and fourth graders are learning about the deforestation to the rainforest and this is weighing heavily on them while they are not learning about the environment they live in. If starting young is our main focus I think it would be very beneficial to develop more environmental education programs and have a program for every school district in order to make sure students are learning what is appropriate to their understanding. A sense of place is a great way to start.
      • Jun 5 2012: I think Sarah and Kirsten make great points. If we can implement this type of education into the prison system, why not make it an integral part of our public education system. If you learn about it at a young age you are more likely to learn to integrate it into your daily life. I think that Sarah makes an important point though. While education on the dramatic instances such as the rainforest are good for people to understand, I think that there should be an emphasis on the negative environmental impacts your own community are experiencing. I think that the school system should emphasize educating kids on what they can do daily to positively affect their home ecosystems. This helps give people a sense of responsibility and also of obtainability.
      • Jun 6 2012: I agree, Sarah. Telling 8-year-olds about forest destruction that they can do nothing about does not count as a complete environmental education. Hammering kids with a concept so massive and horrible right off the bat may even make them feel removed from the situation, so that they feel "jaded" years down the road when people are still talking about habitat destruction and come to look upon things like that as unchangeable, although still awful. This is not to say that rainforest clearing shouldn't be talked about, but kids should also learn about what they personally can do to lead a sustainable life. Teaching kids about using reusable lunch boxes, gardening, riding their bikes, and eating foods that have the least amount of processing involved is a much more close-to-home message.
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      Jun 5 2012: I agree that putting in programs like this in elementary schools would be beneficial. I think there must also be target areas such as cities and low income areas. In Oregon we are very lucky to have a good amount of wildlife per person. Other places are not so lucky. I know that growing up in the country helped shape my views on nature. Giving more people this opportunity would hopefully lead to a better future.

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