Saturday, October 3, 2015

What does conservation mean to me?

When I walked into the Cuerici Biological Station, the first thought that popped into my head was that I had stepped foot into a quiet sanctuary, away from the buzz of insects and frogs at Las Cruces, far, far away from any trace of the bustling lifestyle of home in the U.S. The following days were filled with a glorious peace punctuated with splashes from the trout farm and fresh, crisp air—the kind that clears a muddled brain and draws you into the life right in front of you. At Cuerici, I started reflecting on my role in the spectacular events I had witnessed at Las Cruces. The awe and wonder and intimacy I had experienced in watching the spiders feed, or frogs mate were becoming something personal—what does conservation mean to me?
            One particular suggestion, that the government pursue conservation by seeking out the few nature-lovers who would be willing to give up the comforts of the typical modern lifestyle, really rattled my thinking. This was the basis for Cuerici, and this conversation represented the dichotomy between my personal background and the idea that people may need to give up basic luxuries to protect the environment. My parents are immigrants from China, who literally studied their way out of what most Americans would consider to be poverty, and don’t understand why I would choose to give up a semester at a top-tier college to learn about the environment. While I disagree with their opinions, I do believe that they are justified in their way of thinking—how do you care for the earth when you can’t even manage to go to sleep on a full stomach? So I can’t really blame them for their apathy regarding conservation, and this idea that people may need to choose the ascetic lifestyle while others work so hard to escape it completely confounds my mind. Who do I support? How do I respond?
            My conclusion is that I have no conclusion to this particular paradox. However, I can say that my paradigms have begun to shift and I will no longer be able to carelessly observe the adorable strawberry poison frogs without a deeper desire to protect them. I can walk forwards by just spreading awareness about the importance of conservation so that people at least have the choice of prioritizing themselves or the world around them in their present situations. Education (for myself and others) will be my next step to valuing conservation. 
Jeanne Shi
Duke University

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