Conservation Tomorrow: Creating Future Leaders
In this Earthwatch debate at London’s Royal Geographical Society, three young scientists discuss how to foster a new generation of environmental leaders.
The three fellows of Earthwatch’s Capacity Development program, which provides support for emerging scientists in developing countries, gave presentations on their professional careers so far before engaging in a frank discussion on how to foster a new generation of environmental leaders. Questions were fielded from the audience by the chairman, Professor Mark Huxham.
Sebastián Castro-Tanzi, the lead scientist for Earthwatch’s Costa Rican Coffee from Community to Cup project, put a strong emphasis on the need for scientists to be able to communicate. He noted that he spent hours collecting data, but that it’s vital to be able to communicate this complex science for people to be able to understand it and use it.
Caroline Lumosi, from Kenya, agreed, saying that one major challenge she had faced was communicating science to communities. She had found films to be an “effective communication tool.” By telling stories from a local aspect, she said, films enabled people in the community to identify with people in the films.
Responding to a question about how important scientific knowledge is to conservation, 25-year-old veterinary student Zoavina Randriana said that conservation was “a concept” that anyone can be involved with at any level. Lumosi agreed, observing that “you don’t need to be a scientist to know how to plant a tree.” Castro-Tanzi added that there are “many forms of knowledge that are valuable – not only scientific knowledge, but traditional knowledge in communities, for example.”
Dr. Huxham recounted his own experience: “As a climate scientist, I’m often struck by the degree of consensus within the climate science community about the challenges we’re facing with the enormous disconnect between our knowledge and the action we take to society. What we need is not more science; we need people who are able to take that science and put it into action – they could be artists, campaigners, politicians. Science is important, but by no means the most important.”
The panel were asked about the challenge of working with people who “don’t want to know” about their work.Randriana agreed that it could be difficult: “In my experience, you have to interact with these people, explain yourself, listen to what they want to say. It’s all about sharing. It’s not easy and it can get frustrating. You think educated people will accept what you do, but it’s not the case. It’s not simply the non-educated people who don’t accept what you want to do.”
This subject raised the tricky subject of money and funding - and linking it to the importance of conservation.
Lumosi said that there “has to be governance. It’s important to have a direct link between value and biodiversity, like credit schemes that improve livelihood. I find it hard to tell people that ‘we need to conserve this forest because of biodiversity,’ because someone will answer that they can’t eat biodiversity.”
The panel was asked about their experience in working with corporate partners and what tips they had. Castro-Tanzi acknowledged that much of the funding he has received has come from corporate partners and that “it’s been a good experience. You need to find that one champion who is willing to speak out - that corporation who is willing to move into this area.”
Lumosi added that “these relationships are important.” She said, “It’s not just about getting companies that fund your research, it’s about inviting a few managers from the company into the field so that they can see where their money is going. It’s about giving them exposure that enables them to draw personal links.”
Dr. Huxham noted that “one of the benefits of working with Earthwatch is meeting with corporate volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds,” as it has given him new perspectives that “as a scientist I wouldn’t have had beforehand.”
The evening was wrapped up by Sarah Staunton Lamb, learning manager for emerging scientists at Earthwatch, who said, “Tonight has been the culmination of a lot of what I’ve been striving towards: enabling three inspirational and amazing individuals from around the world to talk about their passions here.”