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 make as big as an impact as possible, environmentalism needs to become part of every day life and habit. This means that we need to attack on all fronts, the wallet, the media, education, and community. First I will discuss the wallet. This can be broken down into personal and commercial. We can all agree that commercial emissions takes up the vast majority of the green house gases and pollution. Therefore as many have said before, we need a tax incentive for businesses to reduce their footprint and build more efficient buildings with better circulation and green roofs. This can also be tuned down to the personal level. Though many of these taxes are already in place, we need to increase the awareness and solutions to the issues with more legislation and public media. This brings me to my next point, education. As many have said before, we need to make the concepts of environmentalism available and "cool" for children. With education, children will begin implementing and informing their parents about ways to conserve. The media, being a reflection of our society, will soon follow. If children are interested in the environment, more shows and articles will be written about it. Finally, there's the community. In order to make environmentalism habit, we need to impliment in into daily life. This means the creation of compost and community gardens in urban areas and increasing the ease for reusing and recycling. I envision a new suburbia, one where lawns are replaced with crops and cars are replaced by public transit. This all starts with legislative backing and public support.
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      Jun 8 2012: I absolutely agree that conservation needs to be a lifestyle, not a series of isolated projects. Thanks everyone for all of your great comments and suggestions on this topic. What are some other ways you currently work for conservation in your own life or ways you could increase your impact on the conservation movement?
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      Jun 8 2012: "In order to make as big as an impact as possible, environmentalism needs to become part of every day life and habit."

      This describes it extremely aptly I think. But the most effective place to focus our energy I think is in education. Its is much more straight forward to raise a conservation-aware generation (one that takes environmentalism as part of every day life) than to try to reteach or re-alight hard set old habits in the current generation (though that is a worthy effort, too, just a much more difficult and expensive one that may yield weaker results). We should have conservation class offered in high schools, and recycling and biodiversity lessons before that. It should be required the same way that English and history are. This is the best and most sure fire way to produce a conservation-wise society.

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