I think I was asked to participate in this session because I am reasonably young (at heart at least) and possibly because I seem to be displaying an interest in doing things differently. I was asked to discuss the kinds of commitments and actions needed to involve young people in the IUCN and conservation in general – and, frankly, I wouldn't know where to begin. I'm new to the IUCN and conservation is a concept and a discipline that found me later in my 'young' life. However, I have always believed in the power of conversation and dialogue – which is the reason I accepted the great honour of engaging with all of you today. With that in mind, I would like to share a little bit of my story with you while making mention of the questions that are keeping me awake at night. So let me begin, again....
I stand before you as a mother, as a philanthropist, as a very privileged western woman who wants for nothing and as a generally very happy and contented person (ask anyone who knows me). I also stand before you as someone who got very angry.
About 6 or 7 years ago I was watching a BBC programme about the destruction of forests for Palm Oil in Indonesia and the demise of the orang-utans. There was an image of a pregnant orang-utan stuck in the last tree in an otherwise completely cleared forest. Staff from a rehabilitation unit were trying to dart her so that she would drop from the tree into their arms and they could save her. They did save her. But in the process her child was lost.
I have had a specific interest in orang-utans for some time, but it wasn’t the loss or the images that got me. It was the injustice. It was the voicelessness. It was my inability to comprehend how we as humans, as self-proclaimed guardians of our planet can accept this.
What are we if this is OK?
So I, for lack of better words, went out of body. I paced – something equivalent to a lioness in a cage. After a while, I’m not sure how long, I stopped and looked at my husband and said YOU – you are the only person I know with a creative mind big enough to do something. SO DO SOMETHING!
And, he, well WE did something together – which became our charity Synchronicity Earth.
What strikes me is this notion of anger, of rebellion, of being rightfully pissed off. Why is there not an environmental revolution raging? Perhaps there is one igniting, but we are not hearing it? Or maybe the voices of rebellion are being quashed before they reach critical mass?
I’m beginning to wonder whether in the West – my own frame of reference – young people are ‘sedated’ by luxuries, and live at one remove (or more) from nature. But does this mean they are irreparably disconnected from it? Too plugged in to technology to care? Not concerned? Have lost hope? Are they screaming and we can’t hear them? Do we even how to hear their screams? Are we listening? Are we all too medicated? Do we not have any heroes?
Is all lost?
I think it is all of these things, and probably many more.
From what I can see, my generation has perfected what my previous generation set as its Modus Operandi – advancement of self at whatever cost – because from our perspective, the world is ours for the taking. In doing so, we have systematically caged creativity, hope, spirit, intrinsic beauty and voice. The youth of today are like the orang-utan in that tree – and society’s bulldozers are in gear.
I feel as though we are suspended in a limbo of dualities between technology and nature. My son would rather build a pig on his mindcraft computer game than play with the real pigs, which he asked for, on our farm. We go to music concerts and the audience stands still, filming the show on their iPods, posting them immediately on Facebook, while my husband and I dance our hearts out. This is not to say that social media and technology is bad – on the contrary – (you) our young leaders, will take us places we hardly understand and can’t imagine.
But what is worrying is that this element of instant connectivity has now taken that ego, my generation’s Modus Operandi of advancement of self at all costs and mastered it. Input-output at lightning speed. But when do these masters of the outward self think – really grapple – with ideas? When do we question anymore?
Self without reflection is hardly conscious.
A technologically socially connected being may link in to a conservation movement and act – which is brilliant, don’t get me wrong – but will that anger – righteousness – feeling last? Is there enough for them to hook in to? Do they really feel it? Does it evoke a memory that drives it home? Is the messenger convincing? Are we simply evolving and processing faster?
For arguments sake, let’s assume we get lucky – the message gets embedded and we have scores of motivated, ecologically conscious beings that are ready to engage.
Is our ‘highly evolved’ world – our societal and political and economic landscape – open for discussion?
Our current paradigm of growth at any cost – extracting resources from ecosystems to feed our insatiable short-term need – is the equivalent of stealing from your future. We are living beyond our means economically, but even more damning and destructive than our huge monetary debt is the enormous ecological debt that is accumulating. Our modus operandi is to assume we are more important than other species – rather than living alongside them, and protecting their habitats, we remove (or let die) any that get in our way. We kill evolution, diversity, and ultimately, ourselves.
Governments can always print more currency to get rid of monetary debt but the future generations will not be able to print more freshwater, bees and orang-utans.
Governments, corporations and NGOs operate in the confines and rules of the aforementioned paradigm (i.e., of growth at any cost). This is where we are. What this means is that if the next generation wants to make a change they have to amend, transform and re-think the entire system.
The challenge for all of us engaged with the youth is a paradox. Not only do we need to teach them about the threats facing the natural world, but we need to guide them to a place, a way of life, that we are not even living ourselves: living in harmony with nature. So ultimately, the question is this: how do we create possibilities for young people to engage with and transform the systems that govern planet earth so that hope lives again?