Swarming Starlings at the IUCN
Dear Sir or Madam,
Have you ever walked beneath a murmuration of starlings and felt the electric energy of the swarm? I have. As a social movement activist working to mobilize global support for wilderness and wild places, few natural experiences are more inspiring. What takes so much effort for people to accomplish – coordinated actions, especially for a wilder and healthier environment – occurs with so much grace and spontaneity in other animals. How can we more efficiently empower people to tap into such wisdom and swarm for transformative change in our society?
It is a difficult world for true, global collaboration. Culture and institutions, more often than not, divide us. These divisions take many forms, including: national and religious boundaries, language barriers, and legal and financial protocols that require us to be more loyal to a single organization or group than actively curious about the wider collective of our species.
That is why, in the rare moments, when institutions wield their power to ignite something larger than themselves, we should applaud their efforts. Nothing short of a global swarm of people flocking with the swift, bold grace of starlings will save our life sphere and the millions of species who live here with us. Unfortunately, too often, we are reprimanded for participating in those very meetings that help us overcome our many cultural and institutional divisions and build trust and dialogue. We are told it is wasteful of carbon and other finite resources.
My view is that such meetings are not a waste at all if we use them to create a more powerful and effective conservation movement. When we expend resources and emit carbon, let’s do so in service to building a movement that will accomplish what we as individual people and organizations cannot: systemic change that restores and regenerates the vast, but shrinking, wild.
WILD.org organizes the World Wilderness Congress (you can read more about the next World Wilderness Congress – WILD12 – here) to foster and ignite mobilized actions. But we aren’t the only ones who do so. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) hosts events directed at uniting civil society and government policy around conservation goals, and this week I had the privilege of attending one of them in Geneva, Switzerland: the IUCN Leadership Forum 2023. This event created a space for WILD to advance its own work in organizing others on behalf of wilderness (especially as it pertains to creating a conservation sector that is more integrated with Indigenous knowledge and wisdom), while doing the same for dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of others in their own conservation fields.
Most impressive of all was the words of Dr. Grethel Aguilar, the IUCN’s interim Director General, who repeatedly acknowledged that the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples within conservation, benefits the conservation as much, if not more, as it benefits Indigenous civilization. And she’s right. With less than 1% of the resources allocated to mainstream conservation projects, Indigenous Peoples are stewarding the vast majority of the world’s remaining biodiversity and a significant portion of its wildlands. What makes their lifeways so successful? And what could we learn from by embedding them within our nascent conservation swarm? Most notably, the interim Director General’s cutting edge statements about cross-civilizational partnership were united with her commitment to achieving at least 30 by 30 (30% of terrestrial and marine habitat protected globally by 2030). I hope that one day soon she also publicly recognizes that the scientific consensus is for Half. 30% has only ever been a good start. When this momentous occasion occurs, the IUCN Secretariat will have fulfilled the mandate of Resolution 125, as approved by the vast majority of IUCN government and civil society membership, to widely disseminate this knowledge.
It is bold statements like Grethel’s, spoken on stage and in private conversations, that expand our imaginations, not just for new solutions, but also for new relationships and new lifeways. And it is open spaces like the IUCN Leadership Forum that enables WILD and others to have substantive and productive one-on-one conversations with other groups – including the International Indigenous Forum for Biodiversity and Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) – who we have been unable to initiate dialogue with via email and less carbon intensive methods, but who are nonetheless critically necessary allies in our current and near-future work.
The 2023 Leadership Forum reaped numerous practical benefits for WILD’s advocacy of wilderness and its best allies. I extend gratitude on behalf of WILD’s many donors and partners and to the IUCN staff – Trevor, Swati, Jennifer, and James, to name just a few – for having labored so well and with such commitment to pry open a space in this challenging world through which conservation starlings may begin to swarm. Let us continue to journey, together, to more powerful, intuitive, and transformative actions and outcomes.
With wild respect,