By Alexandra S. Gross
Program Assistant, UNA-NCA
On June 5, 2017, UN Environment’s North America Office brought together an enthusiastic, multi-talented set of panelists who convened to share their individual ideas and experiences in regards to environmental advocacy. The Nature Summit was hosted by the Embassy of Canada in Washington, DC to celebrate this year’s World Environment Day. The theme, “connecting people to nature,” ignited in-depth discussion among speakers and guests pertaining to the development of effective, innovative strategies for promoting environmental awareness. Given the abundance of conflicting voices in the current public sphere surrounding issues of climate change and sustainable action, it is critical now more than ever before to strengthen the the global community’s engagement to protecting the planet.
The day’s program was moderated by David de Rothschild - British adventurer, ecologist, environmentalist, storyteller, and head of the Sculpt the Future Foundation. De Rothschild emphasized that all members of society, especially its leaders, must strive to fully embrace the intersection of communication, technology, science, and psychology when forming solutions to international problems. Such partnerships can be enormously valuable when it comes to the specific challenges of protecting endangered species, preserving healthy ecosystems, and reducing mankind’s carbon footprint and its harmful behaviors.
Élisabeth Lacoursière, Director of Outreach and Marketing for Parks Canada, was one of the first panelists to speak and shared her firm belief that the more exposure people gain to experiences in nature during their early lives, the more likely they will be to protect and care for it throughout their lifetimes. Sean Southey, CEO of PCI Media Impact and Chair of IUCN Commission on Education and Communication, built on her idea and challenged the audience with the thought-provoking question, “When exactly was the moment you first fell in love with nature?” Audience members were quick to share their favorite childhood experiences, moments of wonder, and memories of simple yet meaningful lessons they had learned from the time they had spent outdoors. Southey went on to argue that these first narratives train and make a lasting influence individuals’ environmental values and behaviors. Leyla Acaroglu, social scientist, entrepreneur, and sustainability expert, also had much to add concerning how it is essential to promote a stronger love of nature in people rather than instill a fear of it. She insisted that “we all need to think differently - immediately” if we are to develop real solutions rather than fall back on reductionist ways of addressing problems.
While the Summit’s core focus was on the topic of nature, much of the conversation centered around the ways in which technology holds the potential to be one of the best assets in building curiosity and appreciation of nature within the community at large. Lauren Bowker, founder of THEUNSEEN, spoke on her “environmentally sensitive” materials house; groundbreaking fashion pieces that essentially change in color as they chemically react with the surrounding elements of the physical world. Darrell Hartman, co-founder of Selva and Jungles in Paris, discussed his video, photography, and journalism projects that beautifully spotlight stories of nature and culture from various countries. Sol Guy, music and media producer, spoke passionately about modern civilization’s need to learn from groups that are more deeply connected to nature, “the original environmentalists” as he put it, in order to rekindle mankind’s connection to the planet. MIT student Xin Liu, engineer and media artist, captivated the audience’s attention by sharing highlights from her latest virtual reality project that allows individuals to experience the life of a tree. She explained that her work stems from her vision of “enabling technology as a powerful resource that helps people to reconnect with nature.”
Every single effort that people make to advocate for environmental protection contributes toward the larger movement of inspiring others to seek meaningful action. World Environment Day serves to remind us that we inhabit the planet together as global citizens and must therefore work together to preserve its wellbeing. This goal, which has further been called to attention by the mission of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, cannot be achieved without the constant dedication, mindful decisions, and active participation of people at all levels of the population - and the first step is advocacy.