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Activism Focus

A Conversation in the Garden

elisadenis October 13, 2020

Image via Unsplash

My grandmother often sits quietly staring at her garden. She also watches the news a lot. Those are the two things she does most. I cannot blame her for that, she has lived a life full of efforts and pain that most people would question nowadays, with their eyes of post-modern children born in comfort and abundance. To them, she always answers using those four words, “It was the war.”

It was one of those days, where I would sit with her by the garden watching the birds quietly. Suddenly, she breaks the silence and asks me about my university degree. She often does that too, forgets some pieces of me. I try to think that just because she loses a piece of the puzzle, it doesn’t mean she can’t remember the full picture. And so I explain the environmental classes I take. She barely listens to what I say next. I see in her eyes that something has clicked in her thoughts and she interrupts, “You’re going to save the world?”

I sigh, if only…Normally I would have explained all the reasons why my hope is fading – the latest oil spill, the raging fires, the angry parents when a school director introduces a meat-free monday, the recent iPhone that nobody needs but everybody buys, yet another proof that consumerism is far from being in the grave – but, as I see a butterfly flying around the Buddleja davidii we planted last autumn, I change my mind, maybe there is room for optimism, maybe small actions can make a difference. As corny as it sounds, I declare, “Yes, we can all save the world.”

I describe how my research seeks to explain the adoption and spread of conservation initiatives, illustrating it through a comparison with the proliferation of television sets in the 50s. This gets through to her, so I continue. Because I want to keep her attention, I avoid using technical terms that will sound like gibberish to her. The territorial use rights for fisheries in Chile that I have spent hours researching become a simple candy jar. I know this will resonate with her as she used to fight over candy with her brothers a lot during wartime. I explain:

“Imagine you have a jar of candy and everybody in the village can freely help themselves…the stock would be gone quickly, it would be a tragedy[i]! But one day, your family is given the rights by the village’s chief to manage the stock of candy. It’s now your responsibility to look over the jar and exclude irresponsible neighbours who take more than their fair share.”

I conclude by explaining that, in reality, this is the story of hundreds of fishers’ organisations who decided to ask for the territorial rights of marine areas. By granting those rights, the government empowered them to sustainably manage their fish populations, and soon this initiative rapidly spread across the country.

“So you wish to understand why fishermen adopted this initiative?”

My eyes light up, “Yes! If we do that we can understand how to catalyse conservation initiatives around the world, which would help decision-makers, conservation practitioners and biodiversity!”

I am now smiling. I see in her eyes that she shares my happiness about this exciting prospect, and nothing brings me more joy than knowing she understands my fight. For a second, I catch that she believes in my truth, that maybe we can all save the world.

[i] Ostrom, E et al., (2002) The drama of the commons. APA PsycNet. Retrieved from : https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2004-15858-000