I have always found the natural world 'awesome' as in the real meaning of the world. On my 11th birthday I got a membership to the zoo which was a minute bicycle ride from my primary school. I spent the summers of the next two years there after school getting to know the animals and staff. In high school I was too busy to consider the natural world much but realised just in time that it was biology that I needed to study. I ended up doing a Masters in animal behaviour studying Frans de Waal’s chimps in the same zoo.
In November 2013, I made a pledge to Zoos and Aquariums for 350 to divest and carbon offset where I could. Realising I could do more, I applied for the Climate Reality Training. I was hoping to be accepted so that I could learn more about climate change and how to empower climate action. I was so excited to be accepted!
When I did the training, all the materials were all about people. There was not much about animals, not much about biodiversity and our natural world. I thought, there is a gap here.
I thought, well, what is my story, what do I want to accomplish? I’m doing all this work to conserve species to maintain a natural world, and I’m really worried about our natural environment. If we don’t take action on climate change all the work of supporting species will fall apart. If I don’t take action who else is going to do this? I need to do something. And why not me?
Climate change will directly affect individual animals, whole species and the habitats they live in, and will ultimately cause our own species' demise.
During the Climate Reality Leadership Training, I started thinking how best to bring the message of climate change to the zoo visitors. The zoos and aquariums collectively have the potential to reach 700 million visitors globally.
From there, opportunities started arising. During one of the breaks, I complimented this lovely woman about her great skirt. We started chatting and really hit it off. She invited me to sit at her table very close to Al Gore. Jon Steel and the creative team who led the Why/Why not? campaign were also at this table. Jon was curious to find out why I was doing the training.
So I asked, how can we capture these 700 million zoo visitors, how can we communicate climate change to these visitors?
They offered their creative strength to help me do this. I have been working with them on developing a fantastic campaign and we are now working with zoos to deliver a package that the 6000+ zoos (but also other organisations such as museums and botanical gardens) worldwide can roll out collectively.
The mission is to deliver a climate action campaign to the 700 million zoo visitors worldwide by the end of next year - amplifying their voices to 'help us write a better ending'.
The Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network (CLiZEN) did a large survey amongst American zoos and aquariums asking about 7000 visitors about climate change attitudes and behaviours. They found that zoo visitors are ready to be educated about climate change, but these same visitors are also confused about what they can do and what is effective climate action. The survey also found that visitors feel connected to the animals and this connection is key in the communication of climate change.
This campaign makes the link between climate change and species in trouble, and puts people right in the middle of this. In Australia, so many species can deal with heat, but not extended periods of heat. They can’t cope - flying foxes, koalas, kangaroos - they are in trouble more and more often.
We received feedback from the zoo and aquarium community as well as the wider conservation community during the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Conservation Breeding Specialist Group annual meeting and the World Zoo and Aquarium meeting.
I am now working on the campaign strategy and plan. We are planning to do a petition delivering the voices of millions of people - zoo visitors - that love and care for animals and biodiversity, to the UN Climate Summit in 2015. We also have some other great ideas to create a wider reach than the zoo and aquarium visitors.
I’m just about to move to Vietnam to start a new job with TRAFFIC (WFF/IUCN) managing the campaigns to reduce public demand for rhino horn there and preventing illegal wildlife trade. I’m also finishing my PhD. Life is a little bit busy – but I like a challenge, it keeps me happy and active.
I just became an Australian citizen, but I’m embarrassed about Australia's climate position. A new IUCN publication shows that eight countries will not achieve their biodiversity targets. Australia is one of these eight and we are also one of the richest countries in the list. We need to let governments know that we will not vote for them if their policies fail us. We can do that best if we amplify our voices. The zoo campaign is one way to do this.
This Week in Climate Change (formally The Week That Was), a weekly review of climate change politics, policy, innovation and science from Climate Reality Leader Andrew Woodward. @climatecomm