I sat on the beach one early summer day and watched a young Environmental Protection employee scolding passersby for walking too close to the roped off bird nesting area. I noticed their dismissive “she’s just a crazy treehugger” look and started thinking about some of the environmental advocates I’ve known and their typical approach to issues and conservation.
For the record, I studied environmental policy in college, did fisheries research for three years and volunteer on my town’s wetlands commission. I am an advocate of effective environmental policy even though I have a few reservations about how it’s done.
I feel like some environmental advocates are disconnected from average citizens. They focus on wildlife only and leave people out of the equation, like we aren’t part of nature and should step aside to let the earth finish what it was doing without our interference. People are as much a part of nature as anything else, and connecting humans to the conservation measures whenever possible would help them understand and (hopefully) support these measures.
People want to fix problems they feel connected to. Our modern world is full of distractions and we can easily forget about things that we “might” want to do something about someday. It’s a natural response to want to solve our own problems before we run around solving the world’s problems. If you cared about every issue everyone thinks is important, you’d probably be pretty frazzled right now.
I’ve met a lot of environmentalists that don’t seem to understand this. They think that because the piping plover population is dwindling and we need to protect their habitat means that this is important to everyone and anyone who doesn’t care is helping to expedite the destruction of our planet. “Selfish fools, only concerned with their smartphones—how could they wander around on the beach, enjoying their weekend when there are migratory birds that are in danger RIGHT NOW!!! HOW COULD THEY!!!”
How can we keep these narrow-minded idealists from giving every environmentally conscious person a bad reputation? I’ve been labeled a “treehugging hippie” just because I wanted to put a recycle bin in my work area. Pretty radical.
A lot of citizens have a view that environmentalists are all like extremist Greenpeace protesters or Whale Wars participants. For those who have never seen it, Whale Wars is a show about people who get a ton of money to waste by acting dangerously radical towards a small group of people in international waters.
I’m all in favor of saving whales, but that money could save so much more if it was directed at issues we have legal jurisdiction over. Think about it—we could clean up rivers, preserve land, fund research—things that will definitely improve our environment.
Caring about the environment needs to be pushed a little more towards the center—farther from the “extreme” side of the activist scale.
People on both sides of the issues need to understand that environmental preservation and improvement is not a zero-sum game. Compromise and cooperation can help earn trust from both sides, making future problems and use conflicts much easier to solve.
Maybe colleges can train future biologists and managers how to negotiate and compromise. Protecting our environment need not always be seen as a “fight,” Often, citizens would agree with preserving the nature around them—who wants to live in a polluted industrial wasteland?
Managers seeking new regulations should spend more time and effort interacting with the public to discuss new regulation. Placing a public notice in the local newspaper that no one subscribes to just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Conversation needs to be directed to the people who normally don’t think about environmental impacts or wildlife, other than if it impacts them directly. They may be totally uninterested in or against environmental affairs; or just have other interests, like serving needy children or rescuing abused dogs.
Taxpayers get frustrated when the beach they paid to access is closed because a little bird wants to live there. We need to be extra friendly when restricting public access—no scolding people, and keep the closed area as small as it can be. Make some friendly signs apologizing for the closure, and provide a good explanation of the bird’s story. Putting this friendly information right where the public sees a closure is very important to deter the angry reaction that might follow. Also, ask for volunteers. Getting people involved in the cause—people from all areas of interest—benefits the cause greatly.
Want to promote an environmentally friendly product? Target the group who is affected most by the damage caused by the old products. Sell lawn coverings that need less fertilizer to fishermen and water-sports enthusiasts. Advertise in fishing magazines, sell your products in tackle shops. They are the people who are most affected by the poor water quality that over-fertilized lawns lead to. Sell organic local fruit to hunters. They may be happy to know the deer they hunt for food was raised on food that isn’t soaked with pesticides. Sell forest management practices to hunters too—they understand the habitat that game animals like and will probably support efforts to create or protect those habitats.
If you take anything away from this, just keep people in mind when you design new regulations. I know it’s not possible all the time, but having people on your side can ensure the success of the project. Most of all, try not to come off as a radical and scold people—like the bird-saving employee who inspired me to write this.