I watched Michelle Obama’s last speech as First Lady of the United States, where she was elegant, powerful and poised as she always is. She spoke of believing in ourselves and our abilities as we move into a world full of uncertainty.
But it was one sentence that truly struck a chord with me:
“…The power of hope. The belief that something better is always possible if you’re willing to work for it and fight for it.”
She may have been addressing the young people of America, but I believe it is something that all young people can take to heart and is particularly poignant given the current political climate we begin 2017 with. Especially as conservationists.
Some of the most influential countries in the world now have people in power who have been cited as climate change sceptics; who do not have the best interests of the environment on their agenda. Fracking has been approved, the department for climate change has been closed down, a badger cull occurred at the end of 2016, and infrastructure is being expanded in place of natural environments. Not to mention, we have a businessman at the helm of the U.S. – I need not say any more about this. It is a greatly worrying time for anyone who cares about the future of wildlife on the planet. It’s already been stated that we are in the process of the sixth mass extinction, which is a horrifying prospect to bear.
Wildlife cannot speak; it can’t fight for its own rights or defend itself in the houses of parliament. All wildlife is vital, but the most integral to the ecosystem are, mostly, tiny. We are losing them at an alarming rate, yet they won’t shout this from the rooftops or provide notable evidence of their decline until it is much too late.
The decline of the honeybee is well publicised, but there are also thousands of other mini-beasts who are important cogs that keep our ecosystem turning, that are also suffering. The concrete expansion of new housing estates, roads and airports are happening too fast for them to cope with.
It all seems a bit bleak, doesn’t it?
But this is where the power of hope comes in. Yes, 2016 was a dreadful year in many ways – but it also inspired something in people we haven’t seen before. Young people began to sit up and take notice; began to say “no, this is not okay”. We cared more about our future than ever before. There are so many young conservationists out there who are passionate about our wildlife, who write detailed blogs and take beautiful pictures, who take an interest in nature and aren’t afraid to be enthusiastic about it.
Since starting Uni a grand total of seven years ago, I’ve noticed a movement in conservation that has seen a surge in younger faces keen to protect the flora and fauna that is under stress. The invention of social media has made wildlife more accessible, and we are willing to work for it and fight for it. Organisations like AFON prove this, and it is inspirational to see. We are giving nature a voice.
Going back to the First Lady’s final address, she said “…something better is always possible”. I truly believe that it is, because from what I can see, our generation genuinely hopes that this is true. But we will have to fight and work harder for it.
It is no longer good enough to simply share something on Facebook or shake your head in disbelief as yet another anti-environment bill is passed.
It’s not enough to sign a petition at the click of a button and then forget about it, or to not read up on politics because you feel like you won’t be listened to.
It’s not good enough to just get angry with the people who don’t see the world the same way you do.
As conservationists, we now have a responsibility to put our thoughts into action, and act on the behalf of nature. To speak up for the future that you want, and the future you want wildlife to have. To educate ourselves on policies, scientific evidence and how we can create a more sustainable future, so that we can talk about it with confidence and really drive for what we want. And, most importantly, to have hope – hope that the people who don’t see the world the same way we do will be presented with an argument they can’t refuse, and come round to compromise.
There are positive things to cling to. There are other countries around the world who are still making changes to support the environment – China, for example, have announced a ban on ivory trade (a huge step in the battle), and Scotland is still fighting for re-wilding. There are new AFON members every month, and for every climate change sceptic there is another wildlife enthusiast. We must carry on to inspire others, show them what is out there, and what we stand to lose. To continue researching, writing, blogging and educating, and provide a united front that hopes in something better.
Will 2017 be a better year for nature? Well, I chose to hope.