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Lauren Hawkins

TEDCRED 50+

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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 think that it is a wonderful idea to get prisoners involved in this. I think anything productive happening in prisons, be it dog training, knitting, or conservation is a good thing. They have the time to learn about it and any kind of positive outcome is going to be a huge bonus.

    The best way to get through to people (especially god-fearing, conservative adults) is to use religion or use something they stand to lose. I know talking to family members about science and evolution and biodiversity was about as fruitful as trying to growing coffee in Alaska. Now, that same conversation explaining that the critters my uncle so dearly loves to shoot and fish might be gone someday, so that his grandchildren won't be able to enjoy game the way he does...THAT kinda got through. Alternatively, arguing with my good Catholic relatives about how "dominion" doesn't mean "trash the place" got farther than trying to explain evolution. Even if you're not Christian (I'm sure as tar not) it is weirdly helpful to know where the bible stands on protecting nature. We really need to do more to get churches, synagogues, and mosques involved in conservation projects, especially on a local level.
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      Jun 6 2012: I think addressing religion in some communities is an interesting idea. As a Christian, I find it odd that people would take our dominion over the earth to mean trash the planet. I was raised with the idea that our dominion meant we have a responsibility to steward the Earth and care for all of the organisms living on the planet. I think addressing this issue in some areas where religious people may be more close-minded to the idea of conserving biodiversity may aid in increasing public support. I would be wary of what tactics would be used, however. Often members of the scientific community scoff at people with faith, thinking they are all completely ignorant and foolish. My fear is that by addressing this aspect, the wrong tone or words would turn more people off to the idea. The best groups to reach out to may be the youth and young adults. College and high school students are likely to be the most responsive and willing to undertake serious conservation projects.
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        Jun 7 2012: I think that the better approach would be to have other Christians with science background talk to religious leaders and let the leaders handle their own congregations. I would never suggest anybody without a religious background try to talk to people they don't know about the subject. It is one thing to debate with relatives, but complete strangers? BAD idea. I've known plenty of scientists who believe in God, and I think they'd be ideal to help in this endeavor.
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      Jun 7 2012: I hadn't really considered religion as a factor in this debate/talk/idea... and I'm not fully convinced that it even has a place here. However, as the lone non-religious observer of a fairly religious family, I do see the powerful influence religion and church leaders hold on my family. I do think, especially in the US, that some environmentally-friendly church leaders could play a huge role in transforming environmental thought. Just imagine if some of the mega-churches started including environmental stewardship as part of their dogma (

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