The Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellowship
Stacey Worman, 2006-2007 Fellow
About My Project
As this year's traveling fellow, I will be visiting different ecosystems throughout the world to investigate their deterioration and the current endeavors for their conservation, preservation, and restoration. My primary focus will revolve around ecosystems that are the most biologically rich, the most ecologically fragile, and the most significantly threatened by local, regional, and global pressures. I will be traveling to countries which represent a diverse set of conditions in order to more holistically understand the problem's complexity and the underlying challenges that different environmental initiatives face. I will be approaching my journey with an open mind and will be seeking opportunities that will expose me to different and conflicting perspectives.
At the end of the day, I'm most interested in how different people around the world are listening deeply and responding accordingly to this issue. I want to experience how people are proactively working to charter new paths for this new century; paths leading towards long-term sustainability, where people live in harmony with their environment and are still able to prosper themselves.
I recognize that the far distance and the removed location of these ecosystems effectively serves to dilute the sensation that our society is responsible for causing any or part of their destruction. Therefore, in addition to understanding the complex relationships that different societies have with their own environments, I will be searching to more deeply grasp our society's intimate connections with the problems occurring in these far away places. In sharing all of this information, it is my hope that all those following my journey will become more mindful of their global citizenship and will become more intentional in regards to their daily practices and choices.
Please Note: This is my original proposal submitted for the application process. As with all long term projects, it is impossible to envision everything that it will encompass at outset. For this reason, slight modification is inevitable and likely to occur. In particular, I will be postponing the U.S./Canada portion of my trip to conclude my travels.
Humans have profoundly impacted our planet and the negative ramifications of our actions should place environmental issues at the forefront of our concerns. Furthermore, the environment intimately connects every member of the human race, as the world's oceans, rivers, air, and wildlife are incapable of being confined within the boundaries and borders that we define. Therefore, we must unite to confront environmental issues in every corner of the world, as unaddressed problems will undoubtedly have far reaching and long lasting implications. The Earth is our source of livelihood and our only home; and it is also our responsibility to ensure its longevity for the prosperity of future generations.
Throughout history, Mother Nature has demonstrated her resiliency against the adverse consequences of many anthropogenic activities. And technological advancements show promise of compensating the Earth for certain types of imposed damages. But no amount of time or ingenious invention will heal the wounds inflicted by the destruction of biological life which is, and always will be, an irreversible process.
Paradoxically, we are riveted by the possibility of life on other planets yet are careless with life on our own. Biodiversity is the umbrella term used to describe the degree of nature's variety and encompasses genes, species, and ecosystems. And although rarely recognized as a commodity, biological diversity is a valuable global resource too frequently compromised for short-sighted gains.
The biggest threat to life on this planet is the demolition and degradation of habitats. Therefore, the most effective way to preserve biodiversity is to conserve and restore the integrity of species' homes. Furthermore, ecosystems are responsible for actively maintaining our planet's habitability and so their preservation is synonymous with the preservation of our own future. Therefore, my proposed project of travel involves investigating the demise of our living world within the different threatened ecosystems of the planet. And despite the great strides that have already been made, the movement has only just begun to be a fraction of what it needs to be; the fate of our living world now lies vulnerably in our hands.
The first phase of my journey would entail a road trip across the United States and Canada. Before venturing to foreign lands, I would spend the summer critically examining the issue on my home soil. I would also use this time to further educate myself about the issue's specificities and would attempt to grasp the puzzling complexity and interdisciplinary nature of biodiversity loss. I would endeavor to obtain a background in the different fields pertinent to my issue such as ecosystem ecology, conservation biology, natural resource economics, environmental public policy, and conservation ethics.
I would then sample an assorted array of the world's threatened ecosystems, choosing among its tropical rainforests, old growth forests, deserts, savannahs, wetlands, and coral reefs. I would investigate the established "hotspots" which have enjoyed the limelight (the Amazon, the Great Barrier Reef ), but I would also focus my attention on exploring the issue in places that are less renowned but are still of great significance. I would balance my efforts between ecosystems that house large quantities of species and ecosystems that house unique forms of life. And I would further diversify my study by considering ecosystems within countries that are situated along different points of the industrial and political spectrum.
I would approach both legs of my travel with a diverse and holistic set of inquiry methods. Within each ecosystem, I would inspect the issue from different perspectives by interviewing individuals in the academic, civic, non-profit, corporate, and governmental sectors -- I would shadow scientists at laboratories, institutions, and aboard research vessels -- I would scrutinize the outward endeavors and inner workings of the issues' proponents and opponents -- I would sweat alongside volunteer corps on restoration and conservation projects -- And I would exemplify the environmentalist's mantra of "walking lightly" by traveling as a WWOOFer (when and where possible) in order to experientially learn different ways it is possible to lead a simple, sustainable, and ecological friendly lifestyle within these different environments.
Throughout my travels, I would remain as unbiased as possible. I would allow myself proper time to wrestle with contradictory findings and to sift through the mounds of propaganda. And I would try to reconcile contrasting opinions, outlooks, and facts and evaluate the viability of different remedial practices and theories.
While the environment is a central part of my life, I'm well aware that most people tend to feel detached from these issues and consequently discount their importance. News of environmental deterioration elicits far less emotion and compassion than starving children or victims of natural disasters. And the immediate gratification that accompanies writing a check or sending supplies rarely follows from earth friendly actions.
Thus, in addition to educating myself, a main goal of my project would entail educating others. I would utilize my website as a tool to share everything I learned in an intriguing and empowering manner. I would send home powerful messages from the field regarding the specific situation of each place I visited within the context of the larger picture. For starters, I would use the space to provide information regarding:
Biodiversity -- What is it? Why is it important to preserve? What are its utilitarian and intrinsic values? What is the “mass extinction” in our midst? What are the threats and causes of biodiversity loss around the globe?
Ecosystems -- What are the world's different ecosystems? How is each vital to our survival? How are humans applying pressure to these places? Within each ecosystem, which species are threatened and which have been lost? How does this disrupt the web of life and how does this interruption feedback and threaten us?
Protection Prioritization -- Who is working to protect these global commodities? How is money allocated for conservation projects? Where does this money come from? What is the involvement of global and grassroots organizations?
Governmental Regulation -- How are different countries attempting, succeeding, or failing to integrate sustainable use of natural resources with the cultural traditions and economic realities of their nation's peoples? What are different management practices? Which are the most and least effective?
Economics -- Can economic development and conservation goals co-exist? What role do different industries (tourism, timber, agricultural, pharmaceutical) play? Is development the sole path to progress?
Ethics of Conservation -- What are they? As a superpower, what is our country's responsibility? What is our personal responsibility? How do our everyday decisions factor into the equation and what small steps can we take to stem the tide?
I did not become an environmental advocate overnight; rather, it was years of spending my recreational time in spectacular places that instilled in me a deep concern and commitment to stewardship. Environmental dedication is a lifelong road that one can start down only after a personal journey. True loyalty to the cause must stem from an individual's internal revelation, as passionate rhetoric and disturbing statistics are easily forgotten when daily life beckons. Kermit was right when he preached that, "It's not easy being green," as environmentalism requires many unpopular lifestyle changes.
For these reasons, it is unrealistic for me to expect that through this project I could "convert" a large number of people to suddenly start caring. But I could explore the issue in its entirety and report my findings. I could induce contemplation and evoke discourse. I could provide reasons why people should "conserve" in a world that is constantly urging them to "consume". And I could plant seeds -- water them -- and hope that one day they may grow.