Written by Holly Narey
“So, you want to be an ecologist?” Dev asked me sceptically, “I’ve been harassed, attacked and shot at several times. It’s not for the faint hearted”. I was sixteen and in the mangroves of Langkawi, Malaysia, being taught about the fragile ecosystem perched at the edge of this small and beautiful island. Dev, a local ecologist, ran the tour and also worked in partnership with local hotels, running nature walks around their lush green grounds, pointing out the local flora and fauna, talking about its rarity and treating it with inspirational respect. “It’s not all saving the planet,” he told me, “there are a lot of people out there more powerful than you who won’t like what you’re saying, and you don’t matter to them at all”.
Several years on, most of a degree and the start of a placement later I am still yet to be put off from this ambition, but the bright dreams of saving the world single handed have been replaced by more realistic concepts whose foundations were formed by what Dev taught me, that you often have to work in cooperation with those you would otherwise have been working against.
Dev’s words brought home the danger of fighting against powers that bypass the importance of human and animal welfare at the individual level, to focus solely on profits. It raised a sense of futility at the thought of trying to work against those huge man-made machines, the international corporations, the Frankenstein’s monsters whose leaders are either too out of touch with normal people or too out of control of what they have created to make any change. In a world where companies such as Foxconn have such disregard for their own workers that they set up suicide nets around their buildings to prevent their employees from threatening to take their own lives if conditions aren’t improved, how can seemingly even less important matters, such as the silent environment, be taken as something important to preserve?
Saving the world has to be sexy. No matter how honourable the aims are, nature cannot be rescued for nature’s sake. Politicians shout about their environmental policies to gain the votes and support of those who look around and realise that the results of hundreds of years of environmental disregard is beginning to reach even their own back gardens. Owls used to roost in the trees outside my London home, and having recently moved to the countryside I have realised that the sound of their hooting has become completely unfamiliar. Contrastingly, the sound of the Heathrow flight path above my bedroom window back in London has led to me being unable to hear them pass over unless they are brought to my attention.
With the IUCN publishing its list of the 100 most endangered species this month, it can be seen that a shocking number of the world’s species are at the very edge of the precipice of oblivion, and the great force of indifference may yet overpower the side fighting to save them, whose strength, despite all their good intentions, is severely weakened by its comparative lack of resources.
If it could be possible to work more in partnership with these powerhouses of the commercial world, and give them more incentive to invest in green initiatives, real change could be made. The politicians and the CEOs have the real power to turn around our slow decline. Like Dev’s cooperation with the big hotels on the island, doing what he could to educate the visitors to his beautiful home, we must all work with those who we may have once considered as fighting on the other side, and make the small changes that will eventually lead to big differences.
Photo credit: Charlotte Jarman