Opinions regarding conservation matters are ubiquitous in the news and on social media. As a young ecologist it can be overwhelming at times, reading so many different thoughts relating to the same subject. Some people may take a very relaxed approach and give a rough reason as to what they believe is correct, not making a point of disagreeing with anything that opposing sides have to say on the matter. On the other hand, some are incredibly militant in their views, not listening to anyone else’s take on the topic. It can be a very complex and intimidating situation for a young person who perhaps hasn’t had as much experience of the world of conservation.
Your opinion matters
Firstly, it is important to remember that your opinion matters. Without people voicing their concerns over ecological issues it would be very difficult for the government and other organisations to take action in areas that will affect the public without upsetting them.
So, before anyone can tell you that you are wrong or that your opinion doesn’t matter because you aren’t knowledgeable enough on a particular subject or you haven’t got enough experience of the world (I can’t understand the mentality of people who make these sorts of comments), just know that everyone’s voice does matter when it comes to deciding plans for the future. However, if you make the effort to learn about the subject and are able to reference information that you have gathered, your opinion will be easier for others to understand and will therefore carry more weight.
Forming a valid opinion
Clearly everybody has varying opinions and all are entitled to their views. However, there have been a handful of occasions when I have witnessed individuals attempting to argue a point despite not having researched the particular topic. This does not help with putting forward a valid point, especially if the information provided is false or unable to be backed up with evidence.
To avoid this, read up on any matters that take your interest before deciding upon your stance. This doesn’t mean simply searching for propaganda and cases for the side that you have taken when first seeing a news article, Facebook post or tweet. Instead, take a diplomatic view and search for different sides of the argument. Ignore who it is that is reporting these views, so long as they are referencing where they are receiving their information.
This is a good way of forming an unbiased, informed opinion. By simply listening to whatever organisation you most closely associate with or agree with on other aspects of conservation, you are not learning about the subject that is being debated over. You are just going with what you have been told as opposed to finding out for yourself, and in doing so you are possibly missing an opportunity to learn something new.
Sharing your opinion
When you’ve made up your mind as to what side of a discussion you support, you’ll no doubt want to share your opinion. Obviously, now that you know your subject it only makes sense that you back it up with legitimate reasons and evidence! If you are in a conversation, you can tell people where you have gathered your information, and the same goes for the internet.
One problem with the internet is peoples’ tendencies to become “keyboard warriors”. This term is used to describe those people who become completely different characters when behind a keyboard, coming across irrational and caustic, as opposed to knowledgeable and focused on the issue. This approach to discussion, whether on the internet or in real life, has no place in meaningful discussion. It hinders progress as these ‘keyboard warriors’ antagonise others and conversations descend into pointless exchanges of words.
Where is this going to get us? It certainly gets us no closer to achieving our goals, and it isn’t just individuals that are guilty of such immaturity. Some organisations appear to make a habit out of trying to anger other organisations that they disagree with. I can’t see it getting anybody any closer to changing the way things are done in order to benefit biodiversity.
As younger people we perhaps have the advantage of living with social media for the majority of our lives. This is such a great platform for sharing opinions and there are many places for us to do so. There are some brilliant groups specifically for young people with shared interests in conservation and nature (e.g. A Focus On Nature, Next Generation Birders) and there are always others who are keen to hear your opinion and sometimes challenge you.
One thing I particularly like about these groups is that I have never once seen an argument over anything. All users are respectful of each other and everybody is listened to; this is just how things should be.
Considering other opinions
Once you have formed your opinion, and you have decided to tell people what you think, you might have some backlash from parties that consider your opinion wrong on some or every level. This can be infuriating, especially when they are saying the complete opposite to the information you have gathered. Whilst there is no need to back away from these confrontations, it is also not a good idea to fight back against this.
Other people are entitled to their own opinion as much as you are entitled to yours. Instead, listen to them. Take something from what they are saying and consider what this means in terms of what you would see as ideal. For example, I was recently tagged in a post on Facebook regarding the persecution of heavily pregnant beavers as well as beavers that had recently given birth. My opinion on the matter got some other users particularly hot under the collar but I still read what they had to say and ended up changing my opinion as a result of seeing and coming to understand why they thought what they did. Of course, the opposing opinion came to me; I didn’t have to go looking for it. However, I recommend that is exactly what is done. Whether this is simply reading different organisations’ articles on the subject, or reading scientific papers, or speaking directly with the people concerned.
The mentality of, ‘they have to change because it’s better for nature’, unfortunately will not work in many cases. The people that are being told to change their ways are doing what they are doing because (in most cases) they have to so as to make a living or for cultural reasons, albeit perhaps outdated cultural reasons. Of course there are some situations where there is obviously a right answer and someone is in the wrong, there’s no denying that.
If this considerate means of discussing conservation was carried out by all, then it would mean different organisations and groups of people with differing opinions on certain matters may be more likely to listen to one another. Fortunately this hasn’t been something I have seen as lacking in young people, but the same can’t be said for some members of older generations. I just hope that the young people I know will continue acting in this considerate manner as they get older.
Compensation for conservation
In some cases it is possible to come to an agreement where both sides benefit; otherwise one side can be compensated for.
A better understanding of why people are against you will make it far easier to formulate sound responses to arguments. I, personally, am a big believer that when it comes to conservation, in the current world we live in it is necessary to sometimes compensate as there are so many people in the countryside, whether they live, work, or enjoy being there. This means that conflicts are unavoidable and often need to be dealt with by land managers so as to reduce these conflicts. Sometimes it is necessary to stand up for a cause, but there are often ways of achieving a positive outcome through diplomatic negotiation with people who have a different take on the task at hand.
Stand up for what you believe in
I have tried to ensure that I don’t sound like I’m suggesting conservationists need to stand back and let some things happen. However, I would like to reiterate a few points that I have made.
- Conservationists should not back away and let anything just happen. Take a look at our opponents, they don’t back away from discussions so why should we?
- Don’t go “on the offensive” and attack the opposing opinion, listen to others and try and work out what would be best to do.
- In some cases, there is clearly a group that is in the wrong. This still means that the group that is not in the wrong should act and discuss the situation sensibly and rationally.
The number of different opinions in conservation can be overwhelming and leave a younger person at a loss as to who to believe. With different sectors having different priorities, there will always be a divide between parties concerned with the same issue. If this divide can be lessened through a more attentive approach to discussion, more people will be left happy and more work can be spent actively remedying the issue or conserving the species or habitat.
As young conservationists, we will be the influencers of how conservation is going to be approached in the future. Do we want it to continue as is, with somewhat slow progress and a very confrontational divide between people, or do we want to advance towards a more balanced landscape, where people and biodiversity and sustainability are taken into consideration? It is all down to us.
BBC, Pregnant beavers shot by landowners in Tayside, 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-35450532 (accessed 10 Mar 2016)