All hands on deck: the fight against climate change

Ten years ago, a Colombian biologist was startled to hear a knock on his office door. He opened it to find a beautiful, unknown woman staring at him. With great determination, Johanna Drews explained that she needed help with the reforestation of the land she had inherited from her wealthy grandparents.

The way I found this woman’s tropical forest preserve is almost as miraculous as its existence. A tenuous chain of human connections wove a curious path from me to her. I was invited to accompany a class of students to Colombia. I met a delightful professor passionate about the environment. Said professor organized a visit to the unexpected woman he met a decade prior. It was one coincidental introduction after another.

To reach her on her reserve, named Reserva Cauquitá, we traveled through an affluent area and past multiple mansions. These sprawling structures were surrounded by thick walls that afforded glimpses of neatly manicured lawns, clearly occupying some of the most expensive land in Colombia. Yet when I met Johanna, she welcomed me with warm Spanish words and simple attire from her home on the outskirts of Pereira. Her property looked nothing like the trim lands of her neighbors. A verdant forest of brilliant green dominated the vista.

Pereira is situated in the middle of the Eje Cafetero, recently named as a World Heritage Site. Drews’ lands, and those of her wealthy neighbors, occupy what was formerly tropical dry forests. Today, only two percent of the world’s tropical dry forests remain. The soil is extremely fertile and, in this case, the location is ideal; making the real estate value sky high. Knowing this, Drews made a difficult decision. She decided to convert her highly profitable land into a highly unprofitable land preserve. She dedicated her life to the reforestation of her family’s property.

Johanna’s decision serves her community and the world. She is preserving species and what little remains of tropical dry forests. She is maintaining the natural water filter (earth) into the precious aquifer situated under those lands. She is preventing deforestation that releases greenhouse gases into our environment. Yet there is no funding from the United Nations, the European Union nor generous NGOs.

Why? Given how remarkable her efforts have been, and the tremendous potential of her work, how is it she still relies on the occasional volunteer for help? And that my path to hers was dependent upon both luck and circuitous connections?

It’s because nobody knows.

The problem that many of these private initiatives or smaller community efforts face is the lack of resources to amplify their message and reach the right people.

These small causes are not able to mobilize their community because their community does not know or understand that there is anything to care about. The concerned citizens, organizations and scientists that are chomping at the bit to find ways to participate in, contribute to or research these ecosystem-saving efforts don’t know they exist. The connection – between those who need, and those who could offer something – is very rarely made. The right knowledge is not making it into the right hands.

Climate change is not just for the scientists of the world. Or the heirs of fertile tropical lands, for that matter. It’s a job for everyone. Small initiatives can’t make it alone. And we need these small initiatives not just to be born, but to grow. The spark to do something needs to be spread, and those subsequent flames need to be fanned.

What does the fight against climate change need now? Communication and participation. Whether that be the facilitation of an introduction, a neatly designed website or an all-and-out campaign to raise awareness, for these projects to launch and grow they need much, much more than what they are currently getting. They need programmers, writers, photographers, translators, SEO specialists, marketers, PR specialists, outspoken thought leaders. Everyone has something to offer.

You would never make a computer programmer at Microsoft responsible for communicating the quality of the product to consumers. His or her expertise is in code. You would task the marketing department with designing and executing a strategy. Why then do we somehow expect scientists to not just conduct research on climate change, but to also fight the rest of the battle alone?

It’s a strange kind of madness. And one that needs to stop. The most obvious example? There are still deniers of climate change. Yet the data and research conclusively proving climate change exists. The scientists did their job. Now it’s up to the rest of us to disseminate that knowledge, and do something about it.

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