The invisible space between people and their immediate environment

Earlier this year we were happy to host our first interns. Over several weeks they helped to develop and design the Conservation Leadership Programme on behalf of the Duavata Sustainable Tourism Collective. This programme is now underway with a first cohort of young people on Vanua Levu. One of the final tasks the interns undertook was to write a piece on their relationship to and experiences of Fiji’s unique natural environment. We’re proud to be able to publish the words of these talented young people here.

By Wai-Makare Sorby

Growing up I remember learning about climate change in primary school. We’d make posters and host assemblies for Earth day, and despite how small scale these efforts may seem now, it was the foundation of my interaction with environmental issues and I am fortunate for it.

Seeing that people joining the fight against climate change are getting younger and louder, Timoci Naulusala and Shalvi Shakshi who were 12 and 10 when they spoke at the COP23 global conference in Germany to name a few, shows that youth are aware of our planet’s struggle and should be encouraged rather than undermined because of age.

Hearing such thought out and powerful words from young Fijian students presented to powerful world leaders was a wake up call. It showed me that age does not have to be a boundary, even in a country and society that has led us to believe that the older you are, the more wisdom you hold.

To think that the voices of two children from small rural communities in the islands of Fiji were heard and felt around the globe shows the seriousness of the issue as well as the hope we have in our younger generations. It is important to learn about the threats to our planet early because it is the youth who have grown up surrounded by an environment at risk and will have to live and work through the worst of the climate crisis that is still yet to come.

In addition, the children of today are leaders of tomorrow, meaning ultimately it is up to us to push for solutions to a problem that began before we were born or there won’t be much left of nature for our future generations. 

Coronavirus has substantially changed what is considered a normal lifestyle, limiting movement, interaction and behaviour. I recognise how fortunate and privileged I am to have traveled overseas and with more time at home it is an opportunity for us to explore and learn about the culture, land and wildlife around us in a way that is mindful of the natural world.

Personally, since coronavirus, I’ve found myself engaging with the environment through ecotourism significantly more than any other year, not only to explore, but also to support local businesses during this time. Nature-based experiences have been an important part of learning about myself because without them I would not have an academic interest in environmental science, sustainability or conservation.

I consider myself lucky having grown up with a family who are adventurous and nature-oriented because of everything I have learnt and am yet to learn. 

In high school, I concerned myself with numerous nature-based community service and conservation projects that taught me useful qualities and lessons. Educational nature-based experiences teach you about the environment, in the environment, for the environment. In other words, it is an all-round experience that allows you to make a difference for the betterment of nature while being in it. It forces you to develop leadership qualities as our environmental challenges mean that there is a growing need for people to step up, speak up and find solutions.

This type of experiential learning means that there are no bounds to creativity and critical thinking, mistakes will be made but that only means you have to have resilience to learn from them. In addition, the physical aspect of these experiences is a more practical way of learning while encouraging physical activity, an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Moreover, the cultural aspect allows us to contribute to the preservation of culture and tradition.

As society evolves and progresses, the roots of culture are deteriorating, creating a culture gap between generations. Without our sense of culture and origin, language, arts and history lack depth and understanding. Teaching culture alongside conservation is a special opportunity because learning about traditional ways of living can help create more eco-friendly alternatives in areas such as farming and fishing as well as further our knowledge of Fiji’s customs and traditions.

The most important takeaway from this type of learning is the development of early connection to the environment and the efforts made to spread awareness, sharing what you have learned and applying that knowledge to real-life situations. Developing a relationship with nature, culture and conservation from a young age ingrains important and useful values in youth who could become strong leaders for change. 

Photo of sandbank in turquoise sea,Beqa Island on horizon. The invisible space between people and their immediate environment.
The invisible space between people and their immediate environment

There is a wedge between human life and the environment in the world due to the consumerist attitudes of society. The modern rate of consumption has created an environmental footprint that grows everyday. After the coronavirus breakout the general priority of society has shifted meaning that the majority are focused on areas of health, economic, and social related issues of coronavirus, putting the pressing issue of climate change in the backseat. On the other hand, lockdown has proved to be a temporary positive impact through the decrease in travel related carbon emissions. This has illustrated how extreme solutions, such as a mandatory global lockdown, can slow down the environmental damage that previously ‘normal’ lifestyles created.

The failure to arrive at effective and engaging solutions in the presence of imminent disasters speaks less to our ability to conceive stringent plans and more to our inability to prioritise. Priorities can be changed through knowledge and teaching people of the importance of protecting the planet’s environment and biodiversity. In other words, of course the impacts of COVID-19 are real and brutal however if we don’t shed more light on the environmental issues being experienced around the world, there won’t be a world to worry about. This slowing down of environmental damage can be seen as an opportunity to evaluate our lifestyles in terms of the things modern life has deemed a necessity and can also act as an opportunity for our leaders of all ages and experiences to exchange fresh perspectives, knowledge and ideas in order to develop more sustainable and realistic long term solutions.