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Connect to Disconnect

The IUCN World Parks Congress has integrated many different forms of social media into the congress this year. There is a Facebook site, a twitter full of tweets, down to a flicker account (that has nothing to do with the birds).  In partnership with these many social outlets, one of the WPC’s goals is to inspire youth.

Incorporating social media is one way to get youth more aware, but what can we do to get them INVOLVED! It’s one thing for youth to be more aware of the issues surrounding conservation and the environment but what can they do? The WPC is focusing on how youth can become more involved in their home countries, but what about here in the U.S. It seems more than ever that there is a disconnect between the youth here and the environment.

My question would be do these social media outlets encourage actual connections with the environment, or do they actually encourage a greater disconnect.  Will youth think it’s enough to just be aware of what’s going on. What will inspire them to put down their phones, tablets, computers etc and actually go out and get involved. This might be different for communities that are less dependent on these types of technology such as communities in developing countries, but what about the countries where the youth are so deeply rooted in social media and technology. Why go out to the forests when you can see a documentary of the forests from your couch?

What will inspire our youth in the future?


Tweeting about the WPC

I have been following the World Parks Congress almost exclusively through Twitter. This is a social media platform I have never had much interest in exploring. I previously considered it to be just another avenue for people to over share, or a method to keep track of their favorite celebrities. There is some of that, but in my limited experience I have found Twitter to be a really helpful networking tool. It’s a great way for like-minded people to connect over shared interests, and since it is now a staple in the media world, I’m glad I have an excuse to learn how these 140-character messages have revolutionized news and advertising.

I began my Twitter journey by following @WPCSydney, the official handle for the congress, so most of the tweets from the event are filtered here. Although there are fewer tweets and followers than I expected, following this page has given me a pretty clear overview of the structure, themes, and goals of the event this year. One thing I have found frustrating is the limited nature of the tweet. With only 140-characters I find myself wanting more context so I can interpret the meaning intended.

This lack of information sent me on search through other media sources to find more, but it was incredibly difficult. I wanted to learn more about the people who spent 2 months canoeing through the Pacific Ocean to get to Sydney prior to the congress, and the reception of Planet Fest by the attendees, but there is almost nothing about the World Parks Congress on mainstream media. I understand that we have some pretty intense news stories at the moment, but it’s crazy to me that unless someone is intentionally following the issue it is unlikely that they would know that the congress even exists.

SIDE NOTE: @WPCSydney tweeted about Brett!  Good job, Brett!  You’re basically famous!

How did we get to this point?

There was a dialogue about food and hunger yesterday. A sobering dialogue. A maddening dialogue. A dialogue which kept circling back to inequities that exist on the planet.

There’s two facts from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that are troubling because they BOTH exist on this planet:

1. 805 million people are chronically undernourished on the planet
2. An estimated one-third of all food in the world is throw away (though FAO also admits this number is hard to estimate).

Not that the one-third of the wasted food can be easily delivered to the 805 million people who are under-nourished, but if we could: THERE WOULD NO WORLD HUNGER.

I was caught up in that startling reality that there’s enough food on the planet for everyone yet nearly a billion of people who need it, can’t get it,and didn’t listen as closely as I probably should have. I was maddened, at myself, at people in the room talking about it at a catered discussion while those 805 million suffer today, at everyone except those 805 million.   I had no idea one-third of food is wasted (I trust FAO’s facts).

I realize the issue is complex — the discussion was all about those complexities — but when it comes down to it, it feels like a lack of will, a lack of empathy, a lack of drive to fix it.

Let’s say if I waste X-amount of food in a given week, why am I not more conscietious about how much I’m buying? If I buy $50 in food but waste $10 of it, how does “the system” get their hands on that $10 before I spend it, I buy the food I only will actually eat, and that $10 goes to alleviate hunger somehow.

How do we figure this out……



The World Park Congress and a model.

Here we are: The VI World Park Congress Sydney 2014- “Parks, people, inspiring solutions” is currently happening in Australia. Since the last WPC that was in South Africa, 11 years has passed. This period of time seems like a long pause to talk seriously about the future of the protected areas, especially if we think how many things have changed during this period.

During Durban 2003, I was in my last year of university. So, then as in now I couldn’t assist to the World Park Congress. Then, I tried to know more about the things that were happening in South Africa; just as I am trying it now, with the current congress in Australia. But with the difference of hours between South Africa and Ecuador, in addition of the chaotic Internet connection (DSL-Connection), all of my attempts failed.

Now, 11 years after, the manners to ccommunication between us have changed drastically. Now, thanks God we have high speed, Facebook (2004), Flickr (2004), Youtube (2005), Twitter (2007), Tumblr (2007), Instagram (2010) and all of the traditional media as newspapers or television. With all these tools, it may seem to be bit weird to spend time, money (create an significant ecological foot print (even for one person)) for to move to Sydney just to know on first hand about new advances in the context of protected areas that have been achieved.

I made a quickly review about the number of followers that the World Park Congress has had until now (November 17), but the number of followers between Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram less than 16,000 (This is not an impressive number if we think that a photo of a model on the internet in the same day of the of the WPC beginning had thousands of likes or retweets). Could it be that the people who are more concerned about the nature prefer use the traditional medias to access information. Under this assumption, I was looking for the impact of the WCP on the cover of the three most read newspapers around the world: Daily Mail (UK), The New York Times (USA) and The Guardian (UK). Surprisingly I couldn’t find any news regarding WPC on their front pages.


These results looks like nature is not so important to them. This short assessment about the diffusion of the event on medias have given a poor outcome and could have two meanings: first, a lack of interest by the people (medias) about these events or maybe the people behind WPC have not found a more efficient way to make viral the WPC congress among people and medias. I prefer to believe the second option because I don’t want to believe that some environmental issues that have been successful in the public eye such as global climate change are just a new fashion for them.


Santiago G.

Protected Areas and Keystone Pipeline ramblings

I find the discussion around respecting and integrating traditional knowledge from indigenous cultures at the World Parks Congress a fascinating topic for a number of reasons… Not only do I believe that in many parts of the world, indigenous populations continue to represent valuable stewards of protected areas, but time and again, many continue to fight for their land, culture and way of life. An example of this is the landmark opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline in the US Senate yesterday. The push for the Keystone XL Pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to the Southern US has been met with heavy opposition from the environmental world to the indigenous populations of Canada (Chipewyan) and the US (Sioux). For many tribes, its invasive proposed location directly divides culturally sacred and historically sensitive areas. I am proud to be an American today, to know that at this point, although potentially fleeting, there is still enough value and foresight to prevent a seemingly shortsighted and incredibly expensive product to create an “energy independent” nation. Is it not apparent that this is only a facade of energy independence? What happens when the oil runs out in this area? My interpretation is that we will have spent many billions of dollars to create massive infrastructure, once again violated numerous treaties with 1st Nations populations in the US and Canada, and have failed to gain enough moment to go “all in” on responsible, sustainable, health and environmentally minded energy options.

This poses some interesting questions… Do our voices have any clout against powerful financial forces such as those capable of continuing to push the Keystone Pipeline? How binding are the treaties our international governmental organizations have created and how many times will they be explicitly violated before people start to notice? Are protected areas safe once they have been created? How do we continue to gain support and funding to make sure that our protected areas stay protected? When will environmental and human health outweigh short term financial gain? When will we begin ACTUALLY listening to our underrepresented populations enough to start fighting for their rights?

It is apparent that a portion of our society has been disconnected from a way of life inextricably tied to nature, from a simple walk in the woods, to understanding the more complex migration patterns of animals that we once depended on or the location of valuable medicinal plants. To some, this disconnect may parallel progress. There is no denying our species has taken incredible leaps and bounds in the development of technology, energy, space exploration, or by connecting the world through the internet. This is the progression of humans as we know it, and in many ways provides populations across the world with incredible opportunities for improved quality of life. Yet, it is important to remember that some choose to maintain the way of life they have for centuries for a reason. To me, the book “Ishmael,” by Daniel Quinn, is especially relevant in this discussion. In an in-depth discussion about the role of humans in this world, he establishes a definition of the culture of “leavers” and of “takers” that I find interesting; Takers being defined as those of a “dominant culture,” who see humans as the final step of evolution, the end product destined to do with the earth and its other inhabitants as we see fit, because they are here to support us. Quinn defines the Leavers as a population that lives in accordance with the rest of the life on earth. They see themselves as a step in the evolutionary process that share a world with equally important beings and must act as responsible stewards in maintaining the diverse life systems that we exist with. I believe this concept transcends location, gender, race, socioeconomic status, religion and education level.

We all make day to day decisions that affect others, on scales both large and small. We live in a world with incredibly diverse religious, social, environmental, ethical, and educational groups. How can we continue to support these rich and diverse ways of life even though we don’t understand or agree with them all? It is in these decisions that I believe people need to take more responsibility for their actions and how these actions affect others around them. How can we gain more transparency and assure that the leaders we elect are representing the values of our nations’ people? Deborah White Plume, an Oglala Sioux from South Dakota, sums up a united opposition to the Keystone project; when 94 year old grandmothers and 10 year old kids are willing to blockade semi trucks with the risk of arrest in order to protest a shortsighted and unsustainable violation of land and culture, maybe its time we begin to listen. We are all stewards of this world we live in, and I believe it is of the utmost importance that we reconsider how we value its protected areas and the cultures and critters that live within them.

Hey, I know them!

As someone who fairly recently entered the environmental world, I would not call myself an expert on the “who’s who of conservation.” So after scrolling through the World Parks Congress (WPC) speakers, I was surprised to see some familiar faces. This made me think: (1) the world of conservation must be pretty small, and (2) I must watch a lot of videos.

First there was Jeff Horowitz, co-producer of a documentary on climate change titled Years of Living Dangerously. Then there was Thomas Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who was featured in that film, and also appeared on The Colbert Report. Sylvia Alice Earle, an accomplished marine biologist, is a speaker (she was named Hero of the Planet in 1998 by Time Magazine). I, however, know her from the documentary Mission Blue. Speaker Emmanuel de Merode is the Chief Warden of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I know him from the new documentary Virunga. And finally, I learned about corporations and biodiversity through a TED Talk by Jason Clay, Senior Vice President for Markets and Food at WWF-US, before knowing he would be a WPC speaker.

Now there many, many people who contribute to conservation, so it may not fair to say the world of conservation is small. But I think the prominence of speakers involved in documentaries and other videos at the WPC tells us something. Many of these speakers may consider themselves conservationists, but their role is much larger than that: they are conservation communicators. The WPC’s mantra of “inspiring solutions” is achieved through these innovative speakers who understand the power and importance of communicating conservation issues to the public. It’s these speakers, whether through documentaries or television shows or TED Talks, who inspire and motivate their audience to make a difference. So props to the WPC for providing a forum for these prominent people in the world of conservation communication.

…or maybe it means I just stare at screens too much.

(This entry was posted on behalf of Anna Kellogg)

13 Year Old Stole the Show

At a session about indigenous knowledge, a 13-year named Ta’Kaya stole the show. She represents a Tribal Nation on the west coast of Canada, north of Vancouver (I didn’t pick up the tribe’s name). She was incredibly articulate, her insights were decades beyond her years, and she brought a number of people in the audience to tears, many who spoke afterward about the challenges they have has an indigenous person who had lost hope for the younger generation in their community.  One of the best moments I’ve seen so far at this Congress.

Another best-moment was at the same session when the moderator (also indigenous), noticing that we were 15 minutes past the published end-time (sticking to the time schedule has been tenaciously enforced here) said he would not let the arbitrary decisions of schedule-makers shorten a discussion that needed to continue for the sake of the planet’s biodiversity.  The “time enforcer” in the back of the room was disempowered by that moment. I loved it.

Ta’Kaya is on the left (sorry for the poor photo quality.


An Empowered Future

I have been following a lot of events of the World Parks Congress via their Facebook page. One story that really choked me up and made me feel empowered, is the story of the Pacific Islanders sailing or taking their traditional canoes across the high seas. They braved the dangerous waters for 2 months. If that doesn’t mean much to you, that’s 60 days without a computer, a car, or a cozy bed to sleep in.

Why in the world would anyone want to do this, you may be wondering in wide eyed bewilderment? Because they have a story to share at this congress. They have a story of survival and they are determined to make their voices heard. The way that the world is heading at this point, could mean the demise of their islands, the places they call home. The point that makes climate change and the degradation of the world a heart wrenching topic for me is that these people from small islands probably don’t have much to do with the actions behind the degradation of this world, but unfortunately they are already feeling the consequences of other people’s actions.

Now I definitely see the irony of those words as I sit here on my iPad with the lights on and a small space heater running in the corner. This brings me to the larger idea of The World Parks Congress. It’s a Congress not only on protected areas, but also a chance for collaboration and the sharing of stories from all around the world. It creates this community of people from all around the world that will go home to their respective countries with other people’s stories to tell. It creates even more reasons to try and change legislature, to protect the environment around the world, and a better understanding of who is affected by our actions.

This world is more than just you and me. And my actions might not just affect me. This Congress is creating awareness of the importance of protecting our natural areas. These Pacific Islanders canoed and sailed for 2 months to share their story. I encourage you to share a story of a time spent in nature and why it was important to you. The imagine if you never had that opportunity. What will you do to make sure your voice is heard? What will you do for the environment today?

More Musings from Sydney

We’re on day 5 of 8, and there’s two things that stand out to me today as I reflect about WPC so far.

One is the focus on youth, which I mentioned before in a previous blog.  That topic still seems to have the edge over a multitude of topics here as far as what seems to have some grounding and traction day to day.  Almost 50% of the world’s population is below the age of 35, so it’s all making sense that many of us see that as an important conservation issue.  A few years ago in remote northern Kenya I had a project in which we asked community leaders to identify the conservation priorities of the region, a place in which rangeland is in poor condition for a pastoral-based community, clean water is hard to come by, trees provide the primary source of fuel and heat….and one of the top findings was youth and how to empower them to help sustain and improve the landscape there.  So, what I’m hearing here at the most global of discussions is consistent with what I heard a few years ago in the remoteness of northern Kenya by a group of about 20 Samburu.

Second, there’s a lot of buzz and talk about health and parks, a “healthy parks, healthy people” agenda. This runs the gamut from people needing wild places for spiritual health and renewal, to protected areas conserving forests that keep our air clean, and so on.  There’s aA lot of talk about this, and a lot of thoughts, theories, approaches and disagreements about how to quantify such benefits.  I can’t get my head around how you begin to value some of this stuff, like spiritual benefits. Some use approaches in which visitors are asked how much they would have paid for the experience they just had (this approach was used to measure value of spiritual benefits to visitors who reported spiritual renewal as a benefit of their experience), to calculating the costs of respiratory disease in an area (ER visits, pharmaceuticals for asthmas, etc.) to estimate how much value trees provide in air quality improvement, etc. I’m over-simplifying the examples, but hopefully you get the point.  Where my mind can’t go is this: we don’t pay for spiritual benefits (to go with that example for that moment) and asking me how much I WOULD pay, well, how do I know? I’ve never had to buy spiritual benefits, and the question is hypothetical so who knows if my monetary estimate is accurate,  and so on. I usually settle with a thought that some of this stuff just isn’t monetarily quantifiable.  But there’s where my colleague Kelly Jones comes in; she studies this stuff and maybe she can figure it out J

Australians, as an entire population, appear to have settled on aerosols for meetings their deoderant needs. I cannot find a roll-on deoderant around here to save my life.

World Parks Congress: Modern Day Conservation Trailblazers

How important are protected areas in our lives? In the United States, they have been an establishment for many generations, part of a tradition and history that we often take for granted. Interstates, railways, and air transportation make parks easily accessible for a large portion of the population. Parks in the U.S. are well established. Their presence is founded on generations of trailblazers and visionaries, outdoorsmen and laborers who encountered vivacity in America’s open spaces, who wore through boot soles to discover their soul elevated by the natural world around them; on park rangers, trail workers, and packers who pioneered pathways for the benefit of public access and enjoyment; and on visitors, photographers, and artists, who brought home impressive stories and images of spectacular sights to share with their friends and family. Protected areas do not only preserve nature, they preserve the continuum of all life and history, providing an opportunity for humans to foster a connection with that which enlivens their spirit and enables them to exist. It allows for that connection, once created, to be shared, fostering new human ties with nature.

Visiting a protected area today in the U.S. may expose the faint reminders of the hard work invested in its establishment via interpretative signage. In other parts of the world, however, protected areas are relatively new and have not been afforded the opportunity to have an extensive history or experience trial and error. In this increasingly complex modern world with strong outside pressures from resource extraction companies, social-political strife, and government wills, protected area managers in developing countries are having to accomplish a lot more with much less. Limited budgets, and at times, no budget at all, forces developing protected area systems to face conservation challenges with creativity, dedication, and a mentality of deep resolution to crusade for conservation in the face of diversity no matter the outcome. This very story of the new generation of protected area managers was reflected in the experiences shared by 24 Latin American and African conservation professionals that I had the pleasure to work with during this past summer. At the end of the protected area management seminar that gave them the opportunity to collectively work through common challenges, network, and share resources, this ultimate sentiment was unanimously shared: “We may have little resources to work with, but we have the drive, passion, and desire to work for the advancement of our protected areas and will continue to do so no matter the challenges we face.” In my opinion, these are our modern day trailblazers of conservation.

The World Parks Congress provides the opportunity to connect our modern day trailblazers with conservationists throughout the world. It acknowledges that problems occurring in one part of the world are not unique but a set of common challenges that we must collectively resolve together. It provides an opportunity for protected areas to enter into the forefront of the global conscious.  It acknowledges our past by setting goals for a better and brighter future. It reminds us that protected areas are important for the lives of everyone, not just the species that they are protecting. Complexities, often-ominous towering walls almost seemingly insurmountable, are brought into focus.  It has the potential to bring new populations into the conversation, providing the opportunity for new contributors of solutions.  It provides a nexus between conservation practitioners and concerned citizens.

The IUCN’s utilization of social media hopes to advance this connection. Their use of social media to promote the World Parks Congress is forward thinking. However, the simple use of social media is not sufficient in itself to bring new populations into the conversation. So far streaming videos invite global audiences to  peek into World Parks Congress dialogues. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feature long uncorrelated and unsorted feeds of pictures and brief headlines. An extremely hidden link transfers users to another website to access an open solutions forum. However, the World Parks Congress does not appear to provide a virtual venue to unite and connect communities, involve schools, inspire businesses, and move the everyday individual into collective action for the preservation of biodiversity. A website, in this modern day, has the power to truly incorporate citizen participation (think about any large popular culture campaigns where viewers are invited to vote or interact electronically). In addition, partnerships need to be forged across all sectors of our global society. If a conference happens once every ten years, then the preparation, partnership forming, and online interface needs to reflect the magnitude of importance that the World Parks Congress occupies for conservationists, protected area managers, indigenous people, and world citizens. It should reflect a more cohesive and organized movement that directs online viewers to clarified topics, inviting them to be virtual participants in a well defined international discussion. The World Parks Congress should be a trailblazer in the conservation movement, reflecting the dedication that all generations have invested in the effort to preserve nature, biodiversity, or simply just a beautiful view.