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: Since people are discussing how to make environmentalism cool and how we should introduce children to environmentalism, I'm going to talk about Captain Planet. That's right, Captain planet. Sure, it has a terrible case of early 90s, and watching it as an adult it is very silly, but as a kid I'll be damned if I didn't think it was the coolest thing ever, and it's the only exposure to environmentalism I had as a kid that I still remember to this day(well, except for Amazing Animals). Way more effective than anything I learned in school. I think a problem a lot of educational groups have is that they think because conservation is a serious issue, it needs to be taught to children in a very straight, serious manner. These people do not understand children. If you want something to stick with children, make it fun, make it crazy, give it a catchy theme song, but mix in your message so they're learning as they go. Captain planet also had the advantage that you could use the dramatic and emotional tension inherent in an action cartoon to give the issues at hand emotional weight for young viewers. I've heard people argue that Captain Planet undermines serious issues because they could just call a super hero and he would solve the problem. My reaction as a kid was "holy crap pollution’s such a big problem it needs its own SUPERMAN! That's gotta put it on the same level as alien invasions, evil armies, natural disasters, and dark Gods!". But maybe I'm just weird. He didn't even always win; sometimes the problems were just too big for Captain Planet to resolve.

    What I'm getting at here is that the best way to get kid invested into something is to terms they can understand, and that there seems to be this idea that serious issues need to be taught in a serious manner, but they don't. The issues need to be given substantial WEIGHT, but that can still be done while conveying things in a palatable manner. Captain planet did that and we need more shows that hit for that angle.
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      Jun 8 2012: I could not agree with you more. I too watched Captain Planet and I remember that the problems they faced portrayed real-life examples and somewhat realistic solutions, such as it was never Captain Planet alone that could take on these huge environmental issues, but it took a team effort of all the Planeteers showing how ever a superhero cannot resolve the world issues, but it takes many people to promote change. Along the lines of cartoons, I also remember a very catchy "R-E-C-Y-C-L-E" song from 90's cartoon Rocko's Modern Life that sang about pollution and the depleting O-Zone layer. It not only made the young viewers aware of the issues, but it also showed ways the viewers could help the issue, and if they learn at such a young age, the process of recycling and smart consumer-ship will become natural as they grow up. For those interested, here is a YouTube link to the song.

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        Jun 8 2012: Oh wow! I watched Rocko's modern life as a kid as well. I had totaly forgotten about that episode! Very strange to see something like that in a show like Rocko that almost never tryed to be educational in any way. Mabey it's more effective that way; if a show that never trys to teach you anything suddenly trys to teach something to you, that usualy implies it's pretty important.
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      Jun 8 2012: I agree that it is important to get the knowledge out to a younger group. It's hard to get older people who are accustomed to the lifestyles we have to make enough changes to make any real difference. I guess that every little bit helps, but if we can show the younger generations the issues we are facing in the future in regards to the environment and biodiversity, they might be more willing to grow up with a smaller footprint. I know that this will probably take more time to make a turnaround before it's too late, but it is a start, and seeing the younger generation making changes might even make the older generation respond.

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