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: I think we should be implementing conservation science in the public school system and do it as early as elementary school. I think the skills and practices a society needs can and should be taught at a young age, and it wouldn't have to be a whole separate class students dreaded attending. Instead of requiring whole classes dedicated to conservation science, we could at least teach and implement basic principles of how to lessen our individual impact into all grades and every class. Young elementary students could learn the importance of separating recyclables after lunch and recess, and middle school student could be taught how to conserve food and resources in home economics.

    I truly believe education at a young age is the answer, and I think if adults and parents pushed the education systems to become more active in teaching children how to save the planet through conservation, we can drastically reduced negative impacts for future generations to come.
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      Jun 8 2012: Excellent idea! This seems like the most realistic and easy way to bring the idea of conservation to the forefront of social interactions. Having conservation classes at universities and prisons is a top down approach that states implement in order to make up for short comings in citizens education. If we start teaching this at a young age the first generation will have a great understanding of the concept and then teach their offspring the tools needed at home to supplement what they are being taught at school, much like how economics and frugality were taught during the depression when funds were short, the next generation had a greater appreciation for financial education. Education through generational support to success.
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      Jun 8 2012: I agree that education at a young age regarding conservation science is the most effective way to bring about change. Habits are formed at a young age and if elementary and middle school students learn about proper conservation practices, they will more likely maintain them into adulthood.
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      Jun 8 2012: I completely agree Neil, we should be teaching early rather than the top down approach we are taking. I think both together could be good though because if we are teaching children about the environment and conservation we should also be teaching their parents. If we teach the children about reducing, reusing and recycling, but they have no means of doing this at home then they wont actually do it and may not take as much out of these lessons. I know from experience that children who grow their own vegetables and fruit will eat them more often than children that get them from the store. If they see the whole process of their food being grown they are much more likely to eat it. I think starting early and implementing different aspects of conservation through all of their education would be a great step forward in the future environmental movements. If children are given hands on experience with conservation at a young age then I bet they will be more likely to do more later. Teaching our children is important because they are the future of the conservation movement. The changes they make and fight for are going to change the future of our world. Through our teaching of the things we have learned, both mistakes and successes, they will use this knowledge and continue or implement/ try new things to make changes to further conservation and make bigger changes than our generation will.
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      Jun 8 2012: Its been done with the 3 Rs of recycling, but it could be done in a more pervasive way and with greater scope, in my opinion. Especially if we are looking to keep it away from being an actual class.
      The best way to expand upon the success that Washington State has seen here is almost certainly to bring it to other institutions, like many have said, to schools.

      I don't necessarily agree that we should keep the subject away from its own course or subject though.

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