The youth can be a powerful force for change and can help shape the future of conservation

The purpose of this thought piece is to reflect on the role of the youth in conservation efforts. We will highlight a number of the environmental challenges faced by the planet, discuss the role that the youth can play, and finally, we will discuss what we can consider in remedying the situation.

First things first, when considering the myriad of environmental challenges faced by the global community, it is important to ask what would happen if we did nothing, changed nothing, and left things the way they are. This question lands with an uncomfortable pang, as we are all abundantly aware that this is by no means an option. This would lead to disastrous results for all to bear. The world continues to face unprecedented environmental, social, and economic challenges, all of which are intricately intertwined. These multifaceted challenges range from; the unequal distribution of resources to the pressing need for a transformation of the global financial system, ongoing prejudice, and bigotry, failures of democracy, the increasing global displacement of human populations, challenges of global governance, and the institutionalisation of corruption to name just a few. Closer to home in the environmental space, our challenges range from global warming to deforestation, the alarming depletion of biodiversity, rampant poaching, illegal trade of wildlife products, to ocean pollution and species extinction, most with little respite despite all the work being done to curb the tide. 

As a global community, we are called to redesign the human impact on Earth from one that is predominantly exploitative and damaging to the environment and ecosystems, to one of healing and regeneration. Regeneration is the pertinent word here as it speaks to restoration and adding value. It also contains the word ‘generation’ implying that all generations need to be involved and I would go further to say that in acknowledging their responsibility, they need to reconfigure how they relate to each other. 

The youth are also the future inheritors of the decisions, actions, or inaction made today.

The future of youth in conservation rings much like the adage “the youth are the future”. Yes, whilst the youth are indeed the future of conservation, the future leaders, future managers, and future custodians, the youth are also the future inheritors of the decisions, actions, or inaction made today. We could just continue handing over to the next generation of youth, with the promise that they are the future, with statements such as ‘the world will be better when…’ leading to the blame game between generations. My view is that we need to craft a more respectful relationship between the different generations, with the awareness that we are all here together, honouring what came before and having more gentleness with older generations who made decisions in time and space. Less contentious and more collaborative relations need to be fostered. Intergenerational learning will therefore be important if we are to create effective environmental or conservation interventions that enable different generations to gain and share skills, values, and knowledge.

Communities and youth of today are increasingly becoming aware that much of the richness, colour, and texture that paints all cultures around the world, embodied in the form of Indigenous and Local Knowledge (IKS), is quickly being eroded and lost to global identities. Indigenous knowledge and practices were by design interested in preserving elements of local relevance including nature. Some of these elements or features were regarded as sacred and protected by mythology and storytelling.

Nature, in all its elements including wildlife, was thus engaged with an attitude of sustainability. Protecting nature was a form of self and cultural preservation. Indigenous and local knowledge has proven to be a good ingredient for resilience from agricultural production and management, to water resource management, and effective local governance of resources. By extension, traditional spiritual practices should, therefore, also be protected and valued. It is equally important to deepen our understanding of local traditional beliefs and practices that can support environmental and conservation efforts.  Indigenous and Local Knowledge needs to be engaged with the same reverence as one would scientific knowledge or practice. Youths, especially from rural areas where most of the biologically diverse areas are located, will then be better motivated to hold the mantle and keep shining to a future where all of whom they are, including a valued cultural identity, is more of a source of pride than shameful or indicative of primitiveness.

All change starts within, and we need to explore ways to get the youth to feel valued, purposeful, trusted to think of new things, and joyful in contributing positively to the environment. Before we change the world, we will reliably only change ourselves.

Coaching Conservation

Coaching Conservation is a wildlife conservation initiative with its core mission to Inspire Kids to Care and to be more empathetic towards wildlife and the struggles they face.