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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 7 2012: One thing that I thin could greatly help get people involved is offering them an incentive other then pure pride that they have done their part to save the planet. People require something more tangible. Perhaps offering tax credits for those involved with local programs or something along those lines. If they have something to get out of it that they can use or that has high value in society then people will want to get involved.
    • Jun 7 2012: I completely agree with your point. There is a problem with payouts for conservation efforts however. Money is tight and conservation would not be a problem if we had enough money to make it go away. For that reason conservation is an extremely complicated issue to approach. It is much easier for people to turn a blind eye to the subject and make no actions. Programs which raise awareness and educate people are key to the success of conservation and that is why this prison program could be very useful.
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        Jun 8 2012: I totally agree that education and awareness are the first things that should happen to advocate for pro environmentalism habits. But at the same time we run into the issue, "Well now that I know what to do, why should I do it? What's in it for me?" What we run into are people learning about it and then turning a blind eye to the issue all together because it "doesn't affect them." I am saying that it needs to be brought on to a level for the average greedy American to see eye to eye with. A hard task when most of our noses are turned up so high.
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      Jun 7 2012: I think you're on to something promising here Nicholas, but to fully implement this idea we would have to somehow discover the monetary value of ecosystem services. This may seem like a daunting task, but by providing funding toward quantitative research, we should be able to find exactly how we impact the environment, and praise those who don't through tax credits.
      • Jun 7 2012: I agree that a quantitative methodology must be adapted in order for people to realize exactly how much our ecosystems are truly worth. I think this will be one of the most effective ways for gaining public support and raising awareness because, right now, I don't think the ecological effects of our actions is really general knowledge.
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      Jun 7 2012: Along those same lines, I've heard that offering social incentives can really help as well. Take general environmentalism, for example. It has become supremely popular among the general public because it is seen as the "cool" thing to do. I think there is merit behind this idea. If people think there is social gain behind what they are doing, such as letting the neighbors know that they reduced their waste by half, then more people are apt to do it. This doesn't really propose any tangible changes other than being loud about the things one is doing. Some might call it hubris, I call it conversation. Get the others to think about why they aren't doing those same things and maybe they will opt to be "cool" too. I just thought this was a neat concept when I first heard about it.
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        Jun 7 2012: Yes, even though I don't like the idea of people being compelled to be environmentally-responsible just for the rewards they derive from it, rather than just the pureness of it, I think that by implementing this reward system the feel-good feeling will come to outweigh the importance of the reward. Once people get over the mental hurdle of making a change, they may very well come to realize that the change has been for the better, and any sort of reward can be relaxed.

        http://kindista.org and http://kickstarter.com are great examples of positive community involvement. On a publically-visible nationwide scale something like this would be amazing. Could you imagine a nationwide "stock exchange" board showing how people are "trending" a la Twitter in their environmental and decency scores?
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      Jun 8 2012: It might also help to change the minds of adults if you make it about the children. Most adults will brush it off since the problems people are talking about now won't really affect them during their lifetime. It needs to be brought to their attention that for the sake of their children, or children they know need a better environment and that the adults need to start now. Adults will probably not like the idea of making children pay for their own choices.

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