Thursday, October 31, 2013

BLOGTOBERFEST13 (Day 31): Embracing HOPE as a strategy for conserving the environment

HOPE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS. As a visionary artist, I dwell in HOPE. (art by Hallelujah Truth inspired by photo by Jenifer Hilburn, St. Catherines Island, Georgia)
Hallelujah for HOPE! Hallelujah for CONSERVATION BIOLOGISTS who are asking scientists and the general public to embrace HOPE as a strategy for conserving our beautiful EARTH!

Many of you who have been following my blog, know that I am collaborating with Jenifer Hilburn, an ornithologist working on St. Catherines Island, Georgia, on the story of the American oystercatcher's life-cycle in word and image (see this blog and check out others from this month). In our collaboration, Jen is kind enough to feed me important articles to shape my thinking for my artwork. 

One article that I read yesterday is coinciding with the final image I am making of the American oystercatcher hatching from its egg in the first part of the series of the oystercatcher's life. Therefore, for today's last blog entry for October, I am combining the concept of HOPE from the article, subject matter from Jen's photo, and my resulting artwork (see the photo at the top).

The article that has impacted me so much is entitled: "The Culture of Conservation Biologists: Show Me the Hope!" Published in the September 2010 issue of BioScience, the authors, Ronald R. Swaisgood and James K. Sheppard, are conservation biologists affiliated with the San Diego Zoo. In the abstract of their paper they wrote: 

"We advocate for the establishment of professional rituals that force us to regularly confront despair and seek out the positive, even when things take a turn for the worse." 

Hallelujah Ronald and James for the courage you display in proclaiming a new way to understand and disseminate the dire news that you conservationist biologists determine from your collection of data.  Let me share some key phrases and concepts from this remarkable paper.

"If we wish to do more than complain and whimper about the current state of affairs, we will need to (re-)learn that our actions do make a difference: We turned on the shock, we can turn it back off."
HOPE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS. Does Jenifer Hilburn, an ornithologist who does conservation work with the American oystercatcher have HOPE for this species survival? This is a question I want her to answer. All of us need to have more conversations with the conservation biologists like Jen who are working in sustaining populations of declining species. (photo by Jenifer Hilburn, St. Catherines Island, Georgia)

HOPE (Art by Hallelujah Truth 2009)
"If conservation biologists are pessimists, who, then, will inspire the masses to follow us in our endeavor to save nature from humanity."

The authors quote Steve Amstrup, the US Geological Survey senior scientist in the polar bear program, who woke up one night realizing that his research information released to the public concerning the declining populations of the polar bears would result in the publics' NONACTION. He realized that as everyone accepted the research results to mean that the polar bears would disappear from the Earth, they wouldn't do anything to help change the situation. Here is a line from email he wrote his colleagues alerting them to this undesirable outcome: 

"I am also sure that if the general public thinks nothing can be done, THEN NOTHING WILL BE DONE!"

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER DREAMING. I envision all of us--animal, human, plant--dreaming of healing the Earth that we are part of. Let all of us dream of a future in which we enliven ourselves, make our lives sustainable and extend that understanding to the Earth's sustainability. (Art by Hallelujah Truth)

The authors of this paper on hope go on to propose the following rituals be set up amongst conservation biologists to provide a "structured" practice for hope!:

  • Presentations at professional conferences might consider including a "field of hope."
  • Special symposia and workshops at conferences could focus on hope.
  • Journals might ask authors to address the issue of hope as a regular section in their papers.
  • Conservation biologists need to remember to spend time in nature away from their desks to nurture hope.
  • Scientists could write hope blogs and hope press releases.
  • Support citizen scientists
Swaisgood and Sheppard conclude their article about hope by asking the question: "WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE?"

Indeed, what is the alternative to HOPE my dear readers? Despair? Pessimism? Let's all HOPE for the best and take actions to change the things we can. Learned helplessness is not the place I want to stay. How about you?

That's Coffee with Hallelujah! SOUL BLOG with me. Share your hope for the conservation of our Earth and what actions you are willing to take make a difference!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thank you to Michelle who hosted Blogtoberfest13. Without your willing to captain the month of writing a blog every day and pushing the publish button, I would not have succeeded in doing so. I also want to thank profusely Jenifer Hilburn, who is my scientific muse, inspiring me with her passion for the American oystercatcher and all of the wildlife on her Georgia barrier island of St. Catherines. Jen, you have filled both my heart and mind with stories, images, kayak trips to see the American oystercatcher, Skyping meetings, phone calls, emails, and scholarly articles. Most of all, you have made me laugh with your buoyant enthusiasm for spreading the word. What you know, I now know in part because you have HOPE! Of course, thanks go to the authors of the article, "The Culture of Conservation Biologists: Show Me the Hope!," Ronald R. Swaisgood and James K. Sheppard. What a thoughtful and well written article--I got your message!


  1. I loved this whole series of blogs. The article "The Culture of Conservation Biologists: Show Me the Hope!" is so informative even though there were only small excerpts from it. I think apathy is part of the equation as well as despair and pessimism. I don't know if it has always been so but it seems to be a dog eat dog world we live in with no regard to our fellow mankind or other living things. We kill indiscriminately, we waste our resources and we trod on the down trodden...and I could go on and on with my soap box rant but I won't because people who care know it already and those who don't won't care.

    Thanks Ruth for posting this blog and I hope you do not stop and that I get to read more of the American Oystercatcher. I want to see him survive and thrive and go on to procreate...

    1. I appreciate your support Darlene. And I also am glad that you want to know more about the American Oystercatcher! I won't disappoint you. So stay-tuned!

  2. Ruth, I too was impacted by this articel, and its focus on hope. While somewhere in my head I knew that Conservation Biology is considered the most depressing field in science, its always the HOPE that keeps me going.

    I often hear wildlife biologists say "I prefer animals to people" or something similar and I try very hard to explain to them that that attitude does less than nothing to help the animals. Without people changing there is no hope.

    In my experience, the more you encourage people and refuse to lose-your-cool when people throw "Bald eagle tastes good" or "Sea levels aren't rising" or my favorite "These animals/habitats were put on God's green earth for us to use" the more you effect people. I am very conscious of respecting others opinions and responding in a gentle way like... well, if God put these animals on earth for us, created this garden for us, aren't we supposed to tend our garden? I try to engage people to "SHARE" their places, to take pride in the land they walk on. But the most important message is that there is HOPE!!!
    Beautiful month Ruth, Thank you for letting me participate!!

    1. Jen, you are so wise. I appreciate your gentleness with regards to others' comments that tend to disregard the necessity of caring for our Earth.

      You have taught me so much about the coastal environment and how to communicate about both its beauty and its needs.

      Thank you and I look forward to the continued journey.