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 5 2012: I like the idea that sustainability is getting more notice, that is good. It is also a great way to keep inmates busy during their stay in prison. It is shown that if an inmate has a regular activity or something that he/she has to take care of, like a plant, they are less like to cause problems in prison. The only thing that I could see being a downside to this program is the correlation the public might get. Right now it is thought by a lot of the public that caring about the environment is only done by "granola hippies." If this becomes big in prison being ecologically smart might become correlated with being a criminal or a convict. I think the best way to get more people involved in saving our Earth is teaching the young. The stuff they are teaching in this prison program should be taught to elementary school kids. Kids this young are very impressionable and would be easy to mold into people that care about the environment. This would lead them to grow up caring about the impact they have on the planet and quite possibly change how we live for the better.
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      Jun 6 2012: I completely agree, educating our young is possibly one of the most important things we can do to make a huge difference in environmental movements. With this we will have a whole generation, and all succeeding generations know what they can do to make a difference. Issues mentioned earlier about teaching global warming being controversial, can be solved by simply presenting the facts to the students. Teachers do not need to infer about what is causing what (which is basically known anyways), but they can present the issue's cause as evolution is taught today (or at least when I was a child). Teachers can present it as the best scientific explanation we have for the rapid climate change we are experiencing. And as for everything else, at the simple level that would be taught to children, most of the other issues are not controversial at all- there is a problem, here is something you can do, or do less of to help solve it. We just need a way to show public support for the implementation of these topics being taught in schools.

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