Conservation shouldn’t be a term attributed solely to tree hugging granola eaters, yet unfortunately that is an image conjured up by many when they hear the term. I know because I have been called a tree hugger on more than a few occasions (in a loving, teasing manner, of course). Conservation is important to everyone, whether they are an urbanite, a rural farmer or an indigenous tribe member. Merriam-Webster defines conservation as: a careful preservation and protection of something, especially the planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction or neglect. We all have possessions that we try to preserve and protect, whether it’s a treasured family photo album, an HD LCD TV or a pet pooch, so we can all inherently relate to the principles of conservation. We conserve what we love.
Shouldn’t we all love the environment then, which gives us clean air to breath, fresh water to drink, resources to build shelter from and plants to harvest for food? Conservation of these precious resources should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately, judging from the conflicts over natural resources and the mentality of conservationist versus capitalist, not everyone sees eye-to-eye on this issue. Over the course of the next few blog posts I will discuss some of the reasons why conservation is so important to me and why I think it should be a universal truth.
Returning to the concept of conserving what we love, I take a mental journey back through time to when I was a youngster exploring the wood lot next to my childhood home. My sister and I would spend hours turning over logs in search of critters and “archeological relics” (really just old bottles and knick-knacks from when a home was demolished decades earlier). That free time outdoors, without the watchful eyes of my parents always bearing down upon us, gave a sense of freedom and made us feel like scientific explorers. What an adventure! I credit much of this time to the development of my scientific curiosity and love of nature.
Unfortunately, not many children get to experience something like this nowadays. Either they live in an urban environment where the closest thing to a wood lot is a vacant lot, or they live in the suburbs where they are overwhelmed with electronic gadgets and organized sports. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, calls this “nature deficit disorder.” Children are becoming disconnected from the natural world. How can they learn to love something (and therefore conserve it) if they never have any experience with it? My generation (I straddled generations X and Y) may be the last to truly appreciate nature, if we don’t become more proactive about it… and fast!
It’s a scary thought to me to think that things with the environment could get worse – they’re already bad enough! With the impacts of climate change on the horizon, and developing nations becoming developed (with the added consumerism and fossil fuel use tied to it), we are at a pivotal place on the conservation timeline. What we do now will affect generations to come. So why does conservation matter, now more than ever? Because we are being bombarded by so many messages, new technologies and time wasters that distract us from what’s really important in life. The simple things: taking a walk in the woods, having a picnic by a pond, watching the squirrels run through the park: all of these activities bring us closer to nature and build an appreciation for the natural world.
We conserve what we love. I love nature, the environment, the great outdoors. I do so because I was raised with the natural world outside my door. But for those that weren’t and aren’t so lucky as to have that kind of experience, it is still possible to be a conservationist. How we build the love of nature into them is what I, and a whole host of great organizations and individuals, dedicate our life’s work to. And we will continue to do so until conservationist is a term used not to describe just tree huggers but all people.