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 8 2012: In order to move forward with the conservation effort, I think humans need to be rewarded with something, probably money, for making more conservative choices when it comes to the environment. For example, households can receive a tax credit for installing solar panels on their houses/businesses. This idea of rewarding people with tax credits for making more environmentally friendly choices is a good start to persuading people's decisions. If this idea could be broadened to include more economic, 'everyday life' situations, then more people could receive tax credits, which, in turn, would lead to more environmentally friendly behavior.
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      Jun 8 2012: I agree that there has to be some sort of incentive for people to change their behavior. Most people are selfish in nature (not always in a bad way), and unless it benefits them, socially, economically, or personally, having some sort of reward is needed. Part of the issue I have right now is eating healthier. Buying junk food is much cheaper than buying vegetables. If junk food was more of a premium then people would adapt to the fact that if they wanted to save money they could buy healthier food. This can go one step further and providing support to markets to distribute their foods locally in the surrounding area. This would reduce fuel consumption globally and help financial stimulate many local communities.
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        Jun 8 2012: I agree that it is difficult to obtain support from the public unless there is some way to prove how much the issue really does affect them. Sadly, people won't act on something unless it directly affects them. If the general public is rewarded for making conservation choices then we would absolutely see forward movement.
      • Jun 8 2012: I'm in the same boat as you when it comes to eating healthy. It is just cheap and easy to eat junk. I think you can expand the idea you touched on with junk food to fuel as well. I have thought for a while that the price we pay for gas is not the true price of oil. I think our wars, and our military's presence in many countries is due entirely to the need to procure more oil. Well, if we need this oil so bad and can't live without it, we need to be paying the full price for it. If gas were $7 or $8 per gallon in America then maybe we wouldn't insist on using so much of it. If we're going to send soldiers to other countries to protect the interests of oil companies, those companies should be paying for that. And by extension we will end up paying for it. And that is a good thing.

        The thing is, we already are paying for it by way of taxes and debt. This isn't good enough. People blame social programs for raising their taxes when in truth it is our dependence on oil. We need to see what this dependence is really costing us, and future generations of Americans.
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          Jun 8 2012: Mat, you make a very good point. It's our societies consumption that is to blame for the rise of taxes. Will America ever be able to eliminate our dependency? I believe that this way of thinking and over consuming is engraved in our society regardless of the environmental impacts.

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