Day 4: Opportunities and challenges in ecosystems and environment

By Anna Oposa

For the Young Professional Seminar on “Water: Competition, Cooperation, and Complexity,” I had the privilege of being the facilitator for the topic “Ecosystem and environment.”

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Photo by Youngjin Kim. Copyright 2013.

We first outlined critical problems in this sector. Steven Curtis, a student in Sweden, set the tone of the discussion by saying that there seems to be no responsibility and accountability when it comes to use of natural resources. We launched into a conversation about how people don’t consider the ecosystem as alive, but only a thing for use. The environment usually isn’t considered a stakeholder, especially because it does not have a face or voice to represent it. This becomes problematic because it is difficult, or even impossible, to determine nature’s rights, as opposed to human rights where needs can be stated directly.

Another young professional shared her experience in a petrol company. She said she made suggestions to reduce water and energy consumption based on a study she did. Her recommendations were never applied. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m young,” she mused.

Ponce pointed out that the private sector (i.e., corporations/businesses) need to understand that protection of nature is also for the sustainability of the company.

Another important sector to involve is the government. If the private sector makes efforts to change their practices, it is important that the government shifts their position too, so that policies and regulations can be passed and/or implemented. However, we noted that governments have their own constraints, such as time (i.e., elections and re-elections), resources, and science and technology.

Consumer awareness is also a major driving force in facing these challenges. The current generation relatively doesn’t have as much exposure to nature as previous generations did, so it’s hard to picture where the water and food come from. By letting people know how much resources are being wasted and how much water and energy are being used to make certain products, lifestyles and habits can change.

After discussing these challenges, it was time to be more optimistic and talk about the entry points for young professionals in the world of ecosystems and environment.

We all agreed that there is a need to focus on communication. Communication with different stakeholders, from community influencers to legislators, is key for understanding and possible collaboration. I shared my experiences in being “abnormally persistent” when it comes to approaching politicians, going as far as waiting outside their offices for a chance to meet.

Social media is a new tool to learn about different issues, discover different events/forums/organizations, and spark movements. Signing up for newsletters can also make a big difference because it’s an entry point to information from all over the world.

It goes without saying that schools need to play a bigger role. One suggestion was teaching students how to calculate “family carbon footprints.”

Another good entry point would be volunteer activities. Though this is not a sustainable option in terms of a young professional’s career, it is a good entry point to learn and meet people.

And of course, a very rich entry point would be attending forums like World Water Week and networking in such events. The number and cost of participation in forums can be overwhelming, so it’s important to choose wisely to maximize participation. Though forums have been criticized for being “just” a “talk shop,” it is valuable to gain perspectives from different people and apply what is relevant to projects and activities in your community.

Min Woo miraculously summarized all our points and did a terrific job representing our group and reporting on our discussion!

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Photo by Youngjin Kim. Copyright 2013.

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