Monday, November 29, 2010

The Conservationist's Dilemma

“I arise every morning torn between the desire to save the world and the desire to savor the world. It makes it hard to plan the day.” -E. B. White

Of all the quotes that have influenced the way that I try to approach work, education, conservation, and life, this one most accurately describes what motivates me. I suspect that many environmental educators, researchers, and conservationists can relate just as well to White’s words which succinctly convey the essence of our lives within the environmental movement.  I first saw the quote at the original Feathers and  Flowers blog.

What is it that moves a person to desire to improve the world we inhabit? Clearly, the desire is not present in all humans, and it seems at times that the majority of people are either apathetic or ignorant to the threats that are ever-present and increasing. We who are purpose-driven are often dismayed to the point of utter despair when we observe a collective and blatant disregard for our planet; the overuse of natural resources, the limitless greed, and the plethora of unsustainable behaviors that result in our free-fall civilization. But we have to find a way to effectively navigate the terrain and turn our despair into hope.

This leads me to the attitude adjusting words of Nancy Wood, contained in her collection of poetry entitled “Many Winters”.

"What can I do when I feel the world’s harsh breath and know That if I stay too long in its path My path shall be burned up also
I must go back to the land again and find the eagle at home with the rock.
I must climb to the mountaintop
And find the spot where the river begins
I must lie quietly beside the earth
And find the warmth of its heart.
I must turn my vision to the sky
And find the purpose of clouds.
Then trouble seems far away
And the breath which consumes all beauty
Has passed right over me."

There are those among us who escape the “world’s harsh breath” every time we are inspired by the beauty in Earth’s myriad life forms, the utter complexity of the biosphere, and the unique life-affirming interrelationships that abound upon it. This awareness and appreciation of natural beauty  transforms our lives in remarkable ways and halts the downward spiral that many of us experience from living in an unsustainable and wayward civilization. As we journey, Nature firmly grounds us, so that we can sink our roots into the fertile depths of life and extract every nuance of wisdom and understanding along the way. Our love for Nature connects us to the people with whom we share its transformative qualities, and gently leads us all to develop and enact a personal conservation vision here on Earth. The understanding of this truth is a guiding principle of the Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems (GLADE), and a prerequisite for the Community Conservation Action Projects (CCAP) that follows the academy experience.

It is within our love of Nature and the urgency of our collective global condition that we find a reservoir of energy and a fire of passion to enact personal visions of conservation. Once we receive the gift of our living planet, we are compelled to return the favor to her in somewhat ritualistic and symbolic expression of gratitude. Our personal vision empowers us to believe that our actions can and will make a positive impact upon the natural world that surrounds us. Our goals converge within our human communities and lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of all lands and peoples. Our vision of sustainable living on our planet slowly emerges, and materializes in limitless conservation action projects across the region and beyond.

In GLADE, we strongly rely upon the empowered state of mind that emerges within the participants during our week together. This state of mind must be clearly visible, replicable, and palpable in order to fulfill our mission. It must carry the young person inward to discover a conservation idea that can be enacted in his/her own community. It must involve the joining together of community members and resources, and must result in a collaborative project to improve the environment and serve as an example of what can be done elsewhere.

The challenge of maintaining this newly acquired green fire within both the young leaders and the staff long after the GLADE camp experience is one of the keys to success of the program. It is clear that interaction with Nature and like-minded peers has precipitated a desire within each of us to make a positive impact on the environment, but the farther one gets from the source of inspiration, the less likely that individual Community Conservation Action Projects (CCAP) will materialize.

E.B. White expressed this dilemma well when he stated, “It makes it hard to plan the day”. After an experience that inspires us to feel wholly alive, we are filled with the desire to take action to make the world a better place. However, the demands of everyday living soon take their toll on our energy reserves and philanthropic desires, and soon we are just trying to survive the daily barrage. We recognize the source of our inspiration, and, as soon as we can find the time, we once again head for the Great Outdoors, seeking the solace that only Nature can bestow upon us. And so goes the life of the conservationist. We desire balance, and witnessing Nature’s expressions of inspiring beauty, whether grandiose or subtle, restore us to the state of action where we can positively affect our natural environments and communities. It’s this inward renewal/outward action cycle that we recognize as the driving force in our own lives and try to instill in the next generation of leaders.

"There are two things that interest me:  the relation of people to each other, and the relation of people to the land."  -Aldo Leopold

We sense beauty in Life. We perceive threats to Life. We empower Life. We praise Life. We give back to Life. We return to Life.

I return to the words of Nancy Wood in “Many Winters” to sum it up.

"The rock strengthens me
The river rushing through me
That I keep moving toward
A distant light
A quiet place
Where I can be
And in rhythm with
The song of summer
That you have given me"