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: Reading through everyone's comments, it seems like there are a lot of good ideas out there. I agree with a number of people who have mentioned raising awareness through the media. This idea is closely tied with making conservation "cool." One example that comes to mind is Jack Johnson and his "Greening" tour. (http://jackjohnsonmusic.com/greening/2010). Even if you don't like his music, or don't necessarily approve of everything he does, this seems like the right kind of action to get people going. He is one person who has an impact on a large number of people.
    Are there other celebrities anyone can think of that are well known and also already involved in some kind of conservation effort?
    Does anyone have any ideas on how to encourage some of our more prominent social figures to come to the forefront and perhaps act as one of the faces of biodiversity? I know this second question is likely to anger some people who believe that it is a little insulting to environmental efforts, but I say that if it works, it works.
    • Jun 7 2012: Long have I wished for a sports celebrity to take their "15 minutes of fame" and do something positive with it. Instead we only here the most hackneyed platitudes regurgitated again and again. It is nauseating. Alterantive media and communications may be of some utility but mainstream media is complicit to the problems, owned as it is by giant profit-driven multinationals.
      The study of change suggests that people resist change as a matter of course. During our evolution change usually meant something awful like a cave bear or a raiding party or an earthquake. So inspire of the fact that change is constantly occurring humans fool themselves into believing that some sort of permanence is normal.
      I suspect it is going to take some kind of drastic environmental disaster before we will have enough critical mass to make lasting significant change. And I hope it happens sooner than later because the later it happens the more precipitous the fall.
      This link shows a few celebrities that have contributed to conservation efforts: http://www.looktothestars.org/category/40-conservation

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