It can be hard to know how to create change when the challenges we face seem insurmountable. There are severe threats to wildlife across the world and we’re bombarded with news of forest destruction and species extinctions. Can we really make a difference?
Our message from the team here at Crees is a resounding ‘Yes!’
One of the reasons we don’t think we can do anything to help our natural world is because we don’t hear the success stories, the solutions, the individuals who are working on the frontlines of conservation to save habitats, protect wildlife and inspire behavioural change.
These stories are crucial because they’re empowering – they show us that we can make a difference and give us the knowledge to create change.
Our team lives and works in Manu Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s top biodiversity hotspot. Here in the remote Peruvian Amazon, every day is World Wildlife Conservation Day.
Our mission is to protect the rainforest and its wildlife, while improving the livelihoods and living standards of impoverished communities. We’re a small team, working in an area the size of Wales or Connecticut, and we must admit that sometimes the challenges we face seem overwhelming. Despite this, we are finding real and robust solutions through research, education and community collaborations.
To achieve our aims we listen to the needs and aspirations of the communities we work with and find ways of empowering them through environmental protection and sustainable development.
Most importantly, we do this every single day of the year and never give up, as what the people of Manu and the world stand to loose is simply too precious.
We’ve been taking environmental action for over a decade and have learnt a great deal, so we want to give you some advice based on this experience to make sure that you also never give up...
Look at what you can realistically do, today. We knew that overnight we couldn’t solve all the world’s environmental problems or even those of our home country, Peru. So we looked at where we could have a real impact and for us that was Manu.
For you, that may be in your own home or neighbourhood. We are all consumers and waste producers, so look at how your behaviour and choices impact our natural world and the wildlife that depends on it.
To help protect orang-utans, for example, make sure your favourite foods and products carry the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil certification label. If they don’t, write a letter to the company urging that they change their practices.
We are so much stronger when we work together, so look at who you can support or work with to increase your impact. This could be supporting an international environmental organisation that has a worldwide reach, or volunteering with your local conservation organisation and getting your hands dirty.
Here at our education and research centre, the Manu Learning Centre (MLC), we identified groups that needed support and we forged collaborations with communities and organisations. We didn’t want to just carry out fieldwork and publish scientific papers. We wanted to engage people locally and internationally, to inspire and empower them so that they could take direct action. We achieve this through our education and community initiatives, to ensure that we have a wider impact than research alone.
Once you’ve looked at your own behaviour and how you can offer support or forge collaborations, it’s time to think about creating change in others. This could be as simple as talking to your friends, family or colleagues.
Our number one piece of advice is: do not preach. Do not believe that you are right and others are wrong. Do not try to change people through pressure or cohesion. To create change you must listen, understand and empower. You must give people the knowledge, the skills and the will to change. It’s difficult and will take a long time, but it’s the only way to ensure long-term success.
When we work with local communities, we do not view their behaviour as wrong or right. Their farming practices may have a damaging impact on the environment, for instance, but it’s the only way for them to feed their families. So in our view it may be ‘wrong’, but for them it’s absolutely right. Our role is to understand the communities needs and aspirations, to provide them with options and alternatives, and to offer support if they wish to take it.
Making changes so that you reduce your impact on the environment means making tough decisions and sticking to them. So being realistic from the outset is crucial.
Don’t pledge to become a vegan, for example, if you eat meat every day for every meal. You’ll probably fail and this will make you feel dejected and less likely to try again. Instead, make the decision to eat meat just at the weekends, make sure it’s top quality and sourced locally, and really do enjoy it. When you reach this goal you will be inspired to keep going. You may even take it a step further and commit to just one meat meal a week.
Here at Crees, we have to make sure that all our activities are sustainable over the long-term. We simply cannot make promises to local people and then back out because we don’t have the finances to keep the project running. So we must ensure our plans are realistic, that we have a clear goal, and a way of measuring its success. This keeps us going and growing.
We know, being green isn’t always easy and environmental protection is serious – for us, it’s a matter of life and death, of failing or flourishing. But making green living a lifestyle choice can be really rewarding and fun. It means getting involved in all sorts of hobbies and activities you never thought you’d do and it opens the doors to close-knit communities and like-minded people.
We often talk about the Crees community as a family – it brings together people from all corners of the world, with Peruvians sharing their Amazonian home with visitors from Europe, Asia and North America. We live and work together at the MLC and are driven by the same goals and ideals of environmental protection and social empowerment. It’s a place of learning, sharing and homegrown entertainment. It’s a place where anything feels possible. Where every day is World Wildlife Conservation Day.