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Conservation is at Stake, But There’s Reason to Hope

Conservation is at stake. Climate change, fracking, wildfires, floods, droughts, the Paris Climate Agreement, governmental policies, carbon, fossil fuels, the future of our country and the world. AH! Let alone all the other political issues, protests, and divisions we are in on personal, national, and global scales. The energy is panic-inducing, to say the least. So I turned off the TV and I went outside.

And this is what I realized. First, we are resilient. Human beings are, and so is this planet. Secondly, the only way we get anything done is by working together. Because we are all on this planet together. And finally, the solutions we seek are somewhere in the middle. When we work together, we exchange new ideas, and find ways to share and collaborate.

Grand Teton National Park/Photo by Meghan McNichol

Resilience is the ability to recover from difficulties. Can you recall a time in your life when you struggled, and finally came through it? Perhaps even learn and grow and change from it? I’ve done it over and over. I remember going through a painful break-up years ago, and I was so depressed I thought I’d never recover. Yet, here I am now, stronger in the broken places.

The planet is resilient, too. Did you hear about the jellyfish in the Venice canals in Italy this year because of reduced water pollution? How about less air pollution in highly populated cities like L.A. and Beijing? And that was after only three months of COVID lockdowns! This planet is going to be a home to us much longer if we keep making changes to better care for it. And a lot of other countries are! They’ve committed. Even though the U.S. has pulled back on climate change initiatives, we can still do things in our individual lives until we do, eventually, join the rest of the world.

Just turning off lights, fans, and electronics when you’re not in a room can add up. Reducing water usage and using cold whenever possible makes a difference. Planting our own gardens and buying from farmers’ markets gives us fresher food and cuts down on pollution. Our choices make a difference and have an impact, and Earth responds accordingly.

We make an even bigger impact when we work together. António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has a YouTube TED Talk called “The Race To Zero Emissions Starts Now.” He talks about what countries are doing, what else needs to be done, and how we can only achieve these goals if we come together. Jane Goodall has an organization called Roots and Shoots. It focuses on teaching young people how to get involved and take action. The Foundation for Climate Restoration is another resource with information and opportunities. Or there’s ecologist Thomas Crowther, who has a YouTube TED Talk “The Global Movement to Restore Nature’s Biodiversity,” where he explains the idea behind his One Trillion Trees restoration project, how we can get involved, and that it works when we all participate.

The message is clear. We need to work together. But how? That certainly seems impossible right now.

I have a story I want to share of an encounter that demonstrates the answers we seek come from seeing our stories in new ways. I was traveling across the country, as van-lifers do, and I stopped in South Dakota. I was solo at a restaurant bar, sitting near a young lady, also solo, so I struck up a conversation (a big deal for an introvert who’s content with the isolation a pandemic provides.) In the end we spent six hours talking! About everything — South Dakota, Mt. Rushmore, Colorado (where she’s from and I lived for a few years), my van-life journey, our loves of travel, hiking, breweries, and snowboarding. It went deeper when we opened up about relationships, futures, and dreams we’ve never said out loud before. She’s a recruiter for the School of Mines, so I shared this YouTube video of a guy who bought an abandoned ghost town and runs around exploring mines! We were hours into conversation before our political views came up and we realized that we were on opposing teams. There were so many ways we were similar, neither of us had noticed this one way we were different. We had built such a friendly connection that we consciously made the effort to show up for each other with gentle, kind, and respectful curiosity about these differing stances. She shared truths and opinions from her understanding of the world that I had never heard; she was asking me questions about ideas and facts that she knew nothing about. We ended up walking away with new information and perspectives that we wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to.

It softened me, and reopened my mind and heart to the fact that we are so much more than our political affiliations.

Rainbow sunset driving west through South Dakota/Photo by Meghan McNichol

The government does affect our lives. And it’s a unique moment in the evolution of this country to see so many people actively participating in our democratic process and caring about the policies being put in place. It was a wake-up call a lot of us needed. But, let’s not forget our lives are ultimately shaped by our daily choices. We vote with our dollar bills and our interactions every day. We get to choose what we want the future to look like by how we show up today. Hope lies in the healing that comes from working together to find common ground.

“Our journey is about being more deeply involved in life and yet less attached to it.”― Ram Dass

Completely unrelated to conservation, but if that adventure of the young man who bought a town earlier this year caught your curiosity, you can find it and follow it here. It’s not too late to get caught up and watch this in real time which makes it an interactive experience! He’s about as far removed from politics as it gets, and by the end, you’re gonna want to visit this place. Which you may be able to do some day in the future.

Header photo: Mt. Rushmore/By Meghan McNichol

Meghan McNichol has been wandering around the country for the last 15 years before deciding to put her house on her back and move into a van, where she’s been finding ways to live minimally, reduce her footprint, and live in harmony with the Earth.

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