The other day as I was laying in the grass in a sleepy haze induced by the sun on my face, an ant appeared on a nearby blade of grass. I watched as it maneuvered from one blade to the next, noticed the way its antennae moved in anticipation of the wind. I let a child’s sense of wonder wash over me as I watched this tiny creature go about its life and I began to focus on its perspective. Suddenly, the mundane lawn before me became a jungle where danger lurked around every corner. I saw the instability of a swaying blade, the inconvenience of a fallen twig and the tall canopy of grasses through the lens of the ant. My passion to explore and protect the natural world is rooted in this curiosity to understand how other beings experience life and in the teachings of renowned conservationists like Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall, who have inspired me to feel compassion for my fellow species.
I think that conservation comes naturally to most who have experienced the beauty and complexity of the world around them or been humbled by nature’s strength and resilience. It saddens me that this is a privilege that not everyone can experience. Although I have always had a strong loyalty to all things wild, it is only recently that I have found the outlet to make the impact I hope to make. Individual accountability and local stewardship are essential parts of the equation to solving the anthropocentric destruction of nature, but to save ecosystems before they are pushed past a point of no return, conservation needs take place on country-wide scales.
One of the most effective ways to practice conservation is through civic engagement. I went to my first climate march, then my second, then I attended a rally. Next I voted for a representative who valued conservation and slowing climate change. Finally, I ended up participating in Defenders of Wildlife’s campaign to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas drilling through advocacy on my college campus. During the campaign, I worked with my peers and Defenders representatives to help create a Defenders of Wildlife club at Colorado State University. This allowed me to meet people who are passionate about the same things as I am, and who inspire me to take more action while holding me accountable for my opinions and behaviors. Being a leader in the club has also shown me the power of young people and the strength of grassroots efforts. Now as an intern, I’m gaining insight and understanding about how bills are drafted, passed and influenced by different stakeholders. Gaining this perspective reaffirmed my ability to speak truth to power. I am excited to apply what I learned back on campus to strengthen our efforts as a club, and to remind my fellow students that their voices (and votes) matter.
I am pursuing a science degree, and I used to think this meant that my future was solely in the lab, but conservation has many avenues. Everyone can participate in protecting the planet, whether it is in a lab, as an activist, out in the field, marching or writing letters to politicians and local newspapers, or working for a government agency or conservation organization. I encourage you to experiment to see where your expertise and passion can be best utilized, and to remember Margaret Mead’s famous words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”