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 7 2012: This project sounds like a great idea. However, I think that the main barrier to the spread of this project to other areas is the funding. Funding for prisons come from tax payers, and if the tax payers do not believe that sustainability is important, why would they vote to support programs like this? Education of the masses is the key, for people of all ages. I feel like the television media is the largest influence of public opinion in America today, and if mainstream shows and movies, for audiences of all ages, incorporate sustainable ideals into their material, this could be the single largest way to increase awareness of sustainability problems.
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      Jun 7 2012: One of the first things an organization such as this should do first is get funding. As sad as this fact may be, that we live in a world where without money, we have very little power, it would help them expand. Like you said, Billy, they could reach a large population if they were able to educate people through the media and television. But commercials, shows, and movies cost a lot of money. They could also travel to remote parts of the world and educate people with lectures and presentations. I think this idea would create awareness, and if they start small and get more people involved, this could turn into a much bigger organization.
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      Jun 8 2012: I agree with this fact, if conservation were free and easy then it would not be an issue, but as it takes money and a change in our current lifestyle, many people do not feel that is it worth it. Educating the masses about the effects of their lifestyle choices on the environment is essential to convince them to adapt to sustainable lifestyles. The prison program incorporates education into their curriculum, which is a good step. Mainstreaming environmental issues to society via tv and movies is probably the most effective way to make people realize what is happening and why we need to conserve. Shows like Planet Earth have made headway by making nature intriguing to people, and now we need to compound on that and teach people what effects they are having on our world.

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