Learning, celebrating, and asking at the World Parks Congress

 

IMG_2178

We are all students here at the World Parks Congress.

We are all here with a joint mission and shared worldview – that we need nature, and nature needs us. And, ultimately, we are here to learn from each others’ experiences with the hope that we can make the world a better place. The community of practitioners, scientists, and world leaders at the World Parks Congress bring diverse skills, experiences, and knowledge to the table.  Through collaboration and engagement, we hope to find solutions to shared problems and conservation outcomes that benefit both nature and people.

We know what the challenges are. We know how to solve the problems we face. But something stands in our way.  In our discussions, high-level delegates often lament that although we know what to do, taking actionable steps that have a lasting impact can be incredibly difficult. Whether it’s combating the illegal wildlife trade or addressing climate change and its impacts, similar sentiments permeate – we have the technology, we have the tools, and we have the will, but lack of funding, lack of political will, and lack of public engagement (among other factors) prevent us from addressing these complex problems in a satisfactory way.

Although we know what to do, taking actionable steps that have a lasting impact can be incredibly difficult.

IMG_2246

Throughout the Congress, we have heard about innovative, successful initiatives to address common management problems on local scales. Some delegates have introduced new technologies for data collection, analysis, and monitoring to better track our progress and address threats. Others have presented inspirational case studies of successful community-based conservation efforts that provide benefits for people and nature. Others still have offered ways to integrate business and conservation through economic incentives and offsets in order to balance economic and environmental needs.

We need to ask and answer bigger questions that can help us overcome the barriers that prevent us from solving the complex environmental problems that we face.

We of course need to continue efforts into these and other conservation initiatives. However, we also need to ask and answer bigger questions that can help us overcome the barriers that prevent us from solving the complex environmental problems that we face as members of the conservation and global community. For example:

  • How can we engage the global community to care about nature and take actions to reduce environmental degradation, if it may mean giving up personal freedoms?
  • How can we address complex global problems, like climate change, that threaten our very identities, expectations, and demands for the lifestyles we want for our children and ourselves?
  • How can we reconcile a global focus on capitalism and the idea that economies (and the resources that sustain them), should be based on continuous growth, with the idea that a sustainable, healthy planet means restricting consumption and putting limits on our appetites for more and more?

Many of the solutions and initiatives presented here can certainly help address environmental problems that face protected and other natural areas. We know how to restore ecosystems. We know how to identify priority lands for conservation. We know how to monitor and regulate threats to species of conservation concern. But the real challenge for the future lies in addressing global-scale problems, like climate change and human population growth, which challenge us to question our fundamental relationships with nature, the economy, and each other.

We can continue to recognize the importance of working within existing paradigms – such as ecology, economics, development, and globalization – to address conservation issues. But we should also try to create new paradigms that redefine and reshape our relationship with the natural world. Indeed, this sense has permeated throughout workshops and presentations at the Congress. In the words of one delegate, who called for such a paradigm shift: “We are confronting challenges that require new solutions, institutions and economic relationships. We need to change the way we think.”

We should try to create new paradigms that redefine and reshape our relationships with the natural world. We need to change the way we think.

IMG_2224We are all here at the World Parks Congress to learn from each other. We know what works and what needs to be done. We should celebrate our successes and approach future challenges with newfound insights gathered from this unique and enlightening experience. But at the same time, we need to start challenging each other to ask the bigger questions and focus our attention on underlying factors that might be impeding our progress toward our shared goals. These questions are important not only to the conservation community, but the global community as a whole.  We can only be successful, and provide hope to the future generations that will come after us, by challenging each other to think bigger and ask the hard questions. We owe it to each other and to ourselves.