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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: Many have mentioned making conservation trendy, which is a good approach but what is critical is for citizens to realize and keep in mind that conservation does work and makes a difference. So, it is important for the media to communicate and inform others about current conservation projects, their goals, progress, and successes. There are many environmental websites, magazines and channels that talk about this but they have a limited audience. I think it would be good to have more exposure to conservation stories. That way people can begin listening more to the answers and not just the problems and get inspired to engage in a conservation project or start one themselves.
    • Jun 7 2012: Stephanie,
      I agree with you that increasing exposure may be a key factor in expanding conservation efforts. If we want to access a broader audience, it seems we need to identify a main target. My first instinct is to look to Hollywood. I am constantly amazed by the power celebrities seem to exude over "the everyday person." I might argue that in many ways, such people have more power over the public than our elected officials. If we can convert a few mainstream celebrities to the cause, or identify those that are already interested in conserving biodiversity, I believe this would be a huge start. Is this what you were thinking when you mentioned increasing exposure? If not, what were some of your ideas?
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      Jun 7 2012: Marketing conservation as positive and making it trendy is certainly the right course of action. However, it seems to me that the terminology that is often used such as 'environmental conservation' is so well understood by our culture to mean 'saving the whales and rainforests' and as such is often dismissed or even mocked by the general public. Many Americans especially are simply turned off by environmental causes because of a distrust of those who promote them and the caricature of a tree-hugging hippie smoking pot and talking about saving the world, MAN.

      I think the language is going to become especially important. Instead of saying environmental conservation, perhaps we should begin calling it 'ecosystem services production', or some other such positive and powerful wording.

      Ingraining the development of technology into living efficiently will also be a driving force for the conservation movement. Industry is getting wind of how consumers appreciate the sheer availability of information and services within devices such as smart phones, ipads, ereaders, etc. Eventually some corporate suit is going to catch on to just how powerful a marketing tool the idea of technological efficiency is. When efficiency becomes the name of the game, it isn't such a stretch to convince people that efficiency in environment works to their advantage.

      Just think of how many classrooms are already incorporating the use of ipads or other packaged devices to assist in learning. All of these kids are going to grow up understanding that vast technological power within the palm of their hand is awesome, and will naturally support further scientific endeavors.
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        Jun 7 2012: Greg, you make a great point regarding the attitude behind the term environmental conservation. I know a great deal of people that love and respect the natural world around us yet cringe at the thought of being labeled an "environmentalist." It makes me wonder where the negativity comes from and why hugging a few trees is such a bad thing. I believe educating the public is key to bringing a more positive connotation to conservation, and a slight lingo change wouldn't hurt either. The media would be a great outlet to tap into for portraying a new "trendy" model of preserving ecosystems , since they tend to have such a large influence on bringing about change in the general public.
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          Jun 8 2012: One problem, from what I've seen anyway is that hippies are clearly defined as a counter culture, and it is /very/ popular for people outside of a counter culture to make fun of/hate on the people within, and everything associated with them tends to suffer in the public image as a result. For instance there are a lot of "emo" bands that I think could have achieved mainstream popularity, but people didn't want to listen to them because "that’s music emos listen to!", which is apparently a problem. In the same way, environmentalism suffers from its association with the hippie counterculture, even though the hippie movement and the environmentalist movement are completely different movements that just happen to have a few things in common. They act as if planting a tree will make them spontaneously start smoking weed, stop bathing and start complaining about the government, man(which are unfair stereotypes about hippies anyways, but I digress). So I think the problem is less about people thinking tree hugging is stupid, and more to do with people thinking tree hugging is something hippies do, and hippies are stupid. Which is terrible logic on a countless number of levels, and terribly detrimental to the environmentalist movement.
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          Jun 8 2012: I agree with what both Greg and Nickie are saying about the lingo and words used to describe people who want to fight for environmental conservation. It is very true that people have a negative feeling around the word "environmentalist" and other lingo used to describe the people and the efforts. I think the media could play a part in starting "new trendy models of preserving ecosystems." The media could also be playing a role in overusing the words, which could give them the negative connotation they have today.
          Greg, I think in some ways it could be both hindering and helping the conservation, but overall technology seems to do a lot of harm through the process it takes to make them and then the energy needed to run the technology. Would it be better to have these kids doing hands on science and learning rather than learning about it from technology?
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      Jun 8 2012: I like that you bring up all of the sources for ideas on how to be sustainable and that we need to make it trendy. I think that if we made being sustainable more accessible and easier for the everyday person that it would go a long way to encouraging people to change their lifestyles. Even the implementation of a few Natural Capitalistic views would slightly change our actions while still creating a significant shift towards sustainability. The environmental movement also needs to present a more united front so that the infighting does not deter potential supporters and give the media a way to delegitimize impact science.
    • Jun 8 2012: But is conservation enough? In making conservation trendy what is the definition of conservation we are using and what tactics/strategy are we using to accomplish which goals? Getting popular support for a group or idea is completely possible, but without a call to action and a real definition of what we're striving to do awareness just creates potential energy, not the real change that the Sustainable Prisons Project strives for.
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      Jun 8 2012: I think communication is of course essential. The idea of using prisons is pretty unique, however if the message isn't well conveyed, the whole project would be pointless. Especially because humans have the ability to interpret things differently, its necessary to make sure they interpret the right message.
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      Jun 8 2012: While making environmentalism trendy helps bring in more people, I think it also has a tenancy to simplify issues and make people focus of quick fixes, like compact florescent bulbs, which do use less energy, but they also have mercury and that comes with its own slew of environmental and public health concerns. That is where education comes in, people should be aware of the complexity of the issues through education and access to information.
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      Jun 8 2012: This is a great point, there should be more coverage in the media about efforts being made both locally and on a larger scale. I do every once in a while see something on the news about local communities starting a community garden or recycle program, but there should be more coverage.

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