A Proactive Pivot on Conservation

I recently read an article on the question “Is Conservation Extinct?, which explored the change in rhetoric on conservation.  Conservation has traditionally been focused on the past in order to secure a future for a species or resource.  “But while this strategy may still work in certain specific cases, as an overarching vision it no longer fits. You can’t ‘dial back time’ in a world of 9 billion people demanding water, food and energy.”  By accepting that change is inevitable and managing this change we can more effectively sustain vulnerable species and ecosystems.

I really appreciated the author exploring the proactive theories on conservation and pointing out the reality that giving people the facts does not result in meaningful behavior change.  Belief systems and self-reinforcing social groups are serious barriers to overcome.  Conservation needs more than science, it needs behavior psychology.

This article was geared around conservation, but the need to manage change and shift from reactive, “in the past” defense is a lesson that is valuable for all aspects of environmentalism today.  Maryland’s environmental community is strong, but so often we are on the defense as we try to achieve progress and systemic change.  A proactive agenda is easier said than done, but it is a shift that is deeply needed.


Maryland is #1

Some people know that I am training for the Baltimore Half-Marathon (less than 3 weeks to go!).  Whenever I am on one of my many runs I am very aware of any potential change in air  (e.g., someone smoking nearby, a car’s exhaust, a nearby poultry house).  This usually causes me to go off in a thought spiral of everything I am being exposed to and the potential impact these exposures could have on my health – which is a welcomed distraction on my longer runs.  

Coming into the office today having just finished a long run, an article on a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on premature deaths due to long-term air pollution exposure immediately caught my attention.

At 113 people per 100,000 people per year, MIT found that Maryland has the highest percentage of deaths due to long-term exposure to air pollution.  Those that died prematurely, did so on average of 10 years earlier.  10 YEARS!  

Parts of the state with particularly high mortality rates include Baltimore, Frederick, Reisterstown, Montgomery Village, and Magnolia.

The positive thing I guess you could say about this study is that it was done based on 2005 emissions data.

Since 2005 Maryland has made efforts to reduce air pollution (e.g. Clean Cars Program, 2006 Maryland Healthy Air Act).  I wonder how the impact of these programs/regulations would impact the MIT analysis.

These efforts are also complicated by the fact that air pollution is not sedentary and pollution from as far away as Ohio is impacting our state.

Maryland has made efforts to reduce pollution, but if the total amount of pollution is not just created in Maryland, will state action be enough?  

…I think I have my next blog assignment.

You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

I went to Washington College knowing I wanted to major in Environmental Studies.  My parents were pretty okay with that because at the time I wanted to pursue law school, so that satisfied their uncertainty of my choice in major.  My parents understood the “career” major of nurse or teacher, but understandably could not wrap their minds around what I could possibly do with this degree.  Or why it really mattered.

This remained the case until my mom was forced to take a basic writing course last year and her professor made her write about the environment.  She was not the most keen on reading and writing about environmental issues, but she eventually got used to the idea.  And when it came to choosing a biology course, she voluntarily chose a course on environmental science!

Her first paper was on her ecological footprint – how perfect!  Now grant it she’s still buying food from the grocery store and having our family’s lawn treated, but she’s starting to get it!

They say you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, but in this situation you can!  (Sorry mom! You are not literally an old dog <3 )

It just makes me wonder that if she’s getting it, what is that same turning point for other people.  We all need the environment and in my very unrealistic ideal world I like to think that everyone will have that moment where they recognize the importance of protecting the environment.  However, I think it is more realistic to think that although there may be a resonating point at which people recognize the importance of the environment, they may never be confronted with that point in their lifetime.

It is fascinating to me to think about the messages or issues that transform those that are dismissive and apathetic into environmentalist.  Is it a public health message?  Is it a quality of life issue?  The time it would take to develop a unique transformational message for each person in Maryland is unfathomable.  But I wonder with each new campaign and message that is developed, how many people find their “turning point” and  finally get the importance of acting on climate change and/or saving the Bay.