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: One big obstacle of conservation initiatives is the belief among industrialists and multinationals that it is against productivity. It would seem that modern day view of 'right' industrial practices is governed by profit or more money.
    There is hope if the advantages or importance of environmental conservation is propagated in educational institutions; and if such messages are targetted at young people through the social media.
    The social media can then be a platform for like-minded individuals to organise projects in their communities or to offer support for projects of the kind. Successful community-based projects can then be presented as models that could inspire similar ones.
    The most important thing is continous action, not just words. The message first; then implementation.
    Even politicians should be asked to state their stand on environmental conservation. When societies are governed by concerned citizens, companies could be persuaded to change.
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      Jun 7 2012: I really like your comment that a big obstacle to conservation is the belief that it somehow goes against economic success and resources for a country. Certainly conservation efforts are in opposition with extreme waste and excessive production/consumption. However, conservation does not need to oppose economic success. The Sustainable Prisons Project is a great example of how environmental education can actually increase job options. Once the inmates leave the prison, they are prepared with much wider job skills than when they entered. Conservation initiatives must find ways to reconcile their plans with the goals of industrialists. This doesn't mean compromising the environment, but rather highlighting how conservation plans can benefit wide groups of people.
    • Jun 8 2012: I also agree that the idea that environmentalism is the enemy of capitalism is a major barrier to increasing environmental awareness today. Large corporations wield considerable resources that could potentially be used to help conservation or better yet education, should they be persuaded that it is in their best interest. I also agree that action is the most important thing and that it is crucial that people not only discuss these topics, but live lifestyles that conform to these ideals.

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