Thursday, September 8, 2011

Willing To Go Green: study finds adults and youth ready to embrace conservation

The Ocean Project - a nonprofit network of aquariums, zoos, and other public educational institutions dedicated to advancing ocean conservation - has released a report on public attitudes regarding conservation, "going green" and the willingness of today's youth to get engaged. The results are encouraging in that it shows adults to be willing to take steps and become part of the solution and not part of the problem.

The report, America and the Ocean, is the culmination of an over two-year long study carried out in conjunction with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the National Aquarium and supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It is based on national surveys taken , the most recent being this past April-May, with over 12,000 Americans. Properly documented surveys are able to mathematically rate their effectiveness in representing a larger population and express it as a "level of confidence" percentage figure. According to the report, the survey research came in with a 99% level of confidence.

According to Dr. Wei Ying Wong, The Ocean Project's Communications Project Coordinator,
"Americans may not be looking to make a wholesale shift to a more sustainable lifestyle, but it is clear that Americans are open to taking a few steps in a sustainable direction and interested in seeing themselves as part of the solution rather than as part of the problem."

Of particular importance were conclusions drawn regarding the attitudes of the youth and their willingness to become in engaged in conservation issues and solutions. Three core findings were:
  • Adults are united in their support for teaching younger generations how to care for our blue planet, even while they themselves are divided on issues such as climate change.
  • Young Americans not only possess significantly higher levels of concern about the problems facing the world's ocean, and are most open to new information, but also are the most confident in their ability to make a difference.
  • Young Americans may not be the decision-makers in the household but they are increasingly major "influencers" when it comes to making choices related to our ocean and the environment and becoming more "green."
Julie Packard, executive director of Monterey Bay Aquarium, commented, "This survey has important implications for all of us working at institutions that aim to inspire our audiences and the public to protect the ocean. It points to ways in which we can be more effective. It confirms that people are eager for aquariums and zoos to take a stronger leadership role. It challenges us to provide people with practical steps that will make a difference. It confirms that, working together, we have an unprecedented opportunity to make a difference for the future of our ocean."

John Racanelli, CEO of the National Aquarium Institute, said, "Aquariums, zoos, and museums need to nurture the energy and environmental enthusiasm of our country's youth. Together we can help channel this generation's concern for the world's environment and ocean by providing hands-on opportunities, practical knowledge, and action-oriented avenues help create a new movement to inspire care for our blue planet."

In my own personal experience, I remember, several years ago when I was a dive team leader and underwater presenter at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, as presenters we were instructed to play down any references to climate change, carbon dioxide emissions, or ocean acidification. The Aquarium needed to play it safe and not offend any of their more conservative or skeptical trustees or major donors. Many of us, who had read the research and knew the facts, muttered expletives under our breath and massaged the message as much as possible to get the point across - donors be damned.

Turn the clock forward a couple of years and the Aquarium of the Pacific's big summer exhibit for 2011 is Arctic and Antarctic: Our Polar Regions in Trouble and the fall issue of its quarterly magazine distributed to all members (including those high roller donors) is devoted to "Carbon, Climate Change, and the Ocean." What a difference a few years and a little public opinion can make.

With The Ocean Project's new report in hand to show that both adults and the youth are ready and willing to embrace conservation ideals, it is critical that public science and educational facilities like aquariums and zoos step up so that the public does not have to ponder the future in a vacuum.

Read the entire report, Americans and the Ocean.

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