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How Positivity Can Help Save the Earth

by Beth on April 24th, 2017

The Smithsonian Earth Optimism Summit was held in Washington DC last weekend. The goal of the summit was to convene researchers and environmentalists to share solutions for preserving biodiversity, protecting natural resources, and addressing climate change. What a fantastic idea! Rather than focusing on all the problems and threats we are facing, they chose to highlight examples of what is working.

I’ve written before about the impact of how we frame our conversations. Focusing on the negative can lead to a sense of helplessness, whereas adopting a more positive, solutions-focused approach instills hope and motivates action.

Appreciative Inquiry is a positive approach to change that shifts from looking for problems to discovering what’s working. The aim is to identify success stories and figure out how to replicate them. That’s what participants at the Earth Optimism Summit were doing.

One example would be how to replicate my friend Enric Sala’s Pristine Seas project. As an Explorer-in-Residence at National Geographic, he founded the project to “find, survey, and help protect the last wild places in the ocean.” Thanks to the efforts of Enric and his team, over 4.5 million square kilometers of ocean territory have been protected.

Enric’s work is based on the belief that the best way to protect the seas is to preserve vast areas, which is necessary for diversity to flourish. This way of thinking about conservation can be traced back to earlier work by our mutual friend Tom Lovejoy, who has been doing research on the effects of deforestation in the Amazon for almost 50 years. Tom discovered that fragmentation of the rain forest resulting from deforestation could dramatically reduce biodiversity if the remaining fragments of forest were too small. So we have learned that the solution to preserving biodiversity in forests and oceans is to protect areas that are large enough to maintain a wide variety of life.

It’s exciting to see conservationists sharing positive stories and adopting a solutions-focused approach based on what is working in order to save our beautiful Earth.

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