The Global Environments Network hosted the session “A New Generation of Environmental Leaders Embrace Whole Earth Conservation” at the Conservation Optimism Summit, held 20 – 22 April 2017 and hosted by the University of Oxford and Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Here we share reflections from the event from Christina Ashford, Global Diversity Foundation UK Programme Manager, and Anna Varga, Global Environments Summer Academy 2011 alumna from Hungary.


Global Environments Network at the Conservation Optimism Summit

GEN at the Conservation Optimism Summit: A New Generation of Environmental Leaders

by Christina Ashford

Although most of our Global Environments Network members are very concerned about the state of the planet, many might also agree that globalised pessimism is hardly a solution. The news is dominated by stories of irreversible climate change, rising sea levels, mass species extinction, deforestation, polluted cities – the list goes on. Yet, whilst the human impact on the environment, and the challenge facing conservationists cannot be underestimated, it is unlikely that relentless doom and gloom will inspire the change or social action required to transform our world.

“There’s lots of bad news out there, and it can give the impression that the field is full of despair. But it’s not like that, and what we need to do is change that mindset so that we can continue to attract talented young people into conservation, as well as inspiring the public with hope about the future, and ensuring we can influence policy makers to help address the most urgent problems facing the planet (Conservation Optimism Summit Press Release).” …

Panelist Yuki Yoshida is beamed in live from Japan to join the Panel, attended by over 40 optimistic Summit delegates.


On the first day of the conference, the Global Environments Network hosted the session A New Generation of Environmental Leaders Embrace Whole Earth Conservation. The idea for this session emerged from a current debate ongoing in conservation circles surrounding the ‘Nature Needs Half’ concept propounded by a number of leading conservationists. According to this idea, half of the planet should be protected in its ‘wild and intact’ state in order to ensure our collective future. Many scholars and practitioners refute the idea as potentially disastrous both for nature and humans, arguing instead that a radically new ‘Whole Earth’ approach, that heals the rift between people and their environment rather than artificially separating them further, is the only way to ensure a sustainable future.

Read the full article (GEN at the Conservation Optimism Summit: A New Generation of Environmental Leaders) on the stories shared by GEN members from around the world in the session celebrating solutions, highlighting the central role that people play in conserving biodiversity, ecosystems and cultural landscapes, and providing examples of exciting, avant-garde Whole Earth thinking.


Optimism in nature conservation – for effective and successful conservation

by Anna Varga

Optimism and nature conservation!? At first glance, the suggestion may seem rather improbable, sensationalist, and unscientific to the reader, knowing the present state of nature on Earth. The title, however, does reflect the actual content of my post. I present the substance of a newly arising tendency, or rather, mentality in nature conservation, and I summarize what I learned at a conference held in London – part of an international series of conferences (Earth Optimism Summits) – concerning this new way of thinking. (Words and phrases in italics within the text are referenced at the end of this article). To read this post in Hungarian, please click on this link. …

“Optimistic conservation” may seem controversial to many, as nature conservation itself has been conceived to solve the problems of the environment, and thus it is basically recognised as a crisis science, and, because of this character, it has always been overshadowed by a certain feeling of despondency and despair. As a result, even in the case of successful conservational activities, the emphasis was and still is often laid on the hardships and the problems which can be expected in the future. …

The talks held at the London Conservation Optimism Summit provide examples from all around the world, which demonstrate that there are indeed successful steps being taken towards the protection of our natural values. Andrew Balmford, Professor of the University of Cambridge, sketched a comprehensive picture which supported that the presence of this optimistic attitude in nature conservation is not unfounded, as many scientific results, from various parts of the world and concerning different taxonomical groups, confirm that nature conservation treatments and measurements have indeed happened successfully, and offer grounds for hope. These include, for instance, the increase in the number of several near extinct species, brought about clearly because of conservation actions (Durrell Index); examples include the Saint Lucia Amazon as well as the Great Egret in Hungary.

On the basis of the cases presented, I conclude that conservational activities have only ever been deemed successful or hopeful by researchers or conservational experts, when their aims were shared by and the work was carried out together with others outside the formal scientific or conservation community, and the long-term sustainability, or even enhancement of the results could be expected. To achieve this, above all, personal calling, endurance, multi-layered communication, and thinking and acting on the community level are needed (Goodall 2013).

Presenting on how the growing gastronomy and ‘food-ism’ culture in Hungary is contributing to the maintenance and conservation of wood pastures (one of the most threatened biocultural hotspots of Europe).


Read Anna’s full article (Optimism in Nature Conservation – for Effective and Successful Conservation) highlighting projects presented at the Conservation Optimism Summit. Anna includes a list of books and websites for further information on these projects.