Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Glamorous Conservation

When I took my previous job at a conservation organization, I wanted to be involved with a group that was trying to make a difference in the world. I believed in conservation, fighting global warming, saving the rainforest. I had subscribed to Ranger Rick as a child and Audubon as a teenager.

I could see, during my interviews, that my bosses to be were passionate about their work. That was enough for me. I took the job when offered and began working immediately.

And so began an interesting period wherein I learned a lot about:
1. The mission of the organization;
2. The world of conservation organizations;
3. conflicts between indigenous issues and conservation issues;
4. overlap between areas of high cultural diversity and importance with areas of high biological diversity;
5. people involved in conservation work.

While my job was near Washington DC, our organization was international. We were not political, but were concerned with grassroots projects in sometimes turbulent areas. I was lucky to work for a group that was very much centered on indigenous issues.

As I continued working there, I realized that conservation was not, as I had thought, uncontroversial and hands-off. I like consensus, and thought that the environment is an issue that can unite people. While some people may not care very much about environmental issues, everyone can agree that streams shouldn't be polluted and that we need trees.

I was surprised to see big disputes among conservationists. To be political or not. To side with indigenous groups who want to continue living on their land, or to kick them out and make a national park there. To work together with corporations who want to develop unspoiled land in hopes of getting less contamination, or to side against them to remain "pure." To accept donations from organizations or corporations of questionable repute. To be "paternalistic" in working with indigenous groups or to let them represent themselves.

Luckily, these disputes were far away from me. Our work was far away from me. While I answered phones, arranged meetings and worked on the website, other people in another continent were meeting government officials and indigenous representatives. Although my work was fairly humdrum, I was told by people that my job was "glamorous."

Maybe that was a goal: a glamorous job, and a glamorous life. But this isn't confession, and I think everyone wants to feel like their life is exciting and glamorous.

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