European Wilderness Society

Great success of the international expert panel discussion

As part of the Vlado Vancura Wilderness Academy, a very interesting panel took place on 12th May 2020 from 16:00 – 18:30 CET. The goal of the panel discussion was to bring together leading experts of the nature conservation sector from different parts of the world to discuss, what the corona pandemic can teach us regarding climate matters, and what may be the impacts of the current pandemic on nature conservation efforts.

Many similarities can be found between the emerging problems of the climate crisis and the corona epidemic. The feeling of an escalating, impending catastrophe that can only be tackled by radically changing our lifestyles, where our options have to be limited, where coordination is necessary and where there is an urgent need for governments and take action. However, global topics tend to rival each other, and we can’t save the world from everything at once. Now, the coronavirus attracts all attention in an understandable way. All community efforts, political will, financial resources are aimed at dealing with this, which is why climate protection is pushed into the background.

Main topics of the panel

International experts coming from various parts of the world shared their views regarding the following topics:

  1. How has the corona crisis affected our personal and professional life?
  2. Can the conservation sector learn anything from the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic by the international community and individual member states?
  3. Can we envisage a surge in the level of urgency and action taken by the international community in dealing with crises of climate change and biodiversity loss as a result of the corona pandemic?
  4. Is the international community in danger of being distracted from equally pressing or more worrying environmental problems by the current pandemic and any other that might follow?
  5. Why is it, that governments from developed countries are spending trillions of dollars to ease the economic impact of the corona pandemic while long-term initiatives and investments to create a revolutionary green economy do not receive the same priority? 
  6. How do we convince the public that environmental degradation, species loss and climate change are just as urgent as a pandemic?

What can we learn?

The corona pandemic clearly revealed that we cannot continue on the current path. What we see, is that if we give nature a chance, it will bounce back. Moreover, we have plenty of choices for green growth. We asked all of our panellists: What have you personally learned since the coronavirus pandemic started? Here is what they had to say:

For me it has been slowing down, and having the time to appreciate love, friendship, nature and the other wonderful stuff happening around us. My behaviour has changed, as I’m putting much more value on nature and on good, close relationships, and it a way, that has been a gift.

Jo Roberts
CEO of The Wilderness Foundation UK

For me, it is the unique opportunity to slow down, look backwards and around myself. I spent ten days in my cabin in the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia, with no people around. It was an opportunity to immerse in quiteness, to revisit and think over many things in my life.

Vlado Vancura
Vice-Chairman of the European Wilderness Society

It’s not easy, because I am urgently trying to exit this emergency period (having located in Milano, one hotspot of the pandemic). For the moment, I have one clear lesson learned, related to a project I manage, Pastours. If you manage a project that involves a community in a participatory way, it is able to face almost any crisis in a resilient way. But if your project is top-down, the impact of such crisis is much higher. Let’s give priority to local projects, field-based, participatory-based, involving the local community.

Mauro Belardi
Large carnivores expert Chairman of the NGO Eliante, Italy

Personally I will take out from this pandemic, slowing down, scaling back, being with the family, thinking twice about consumer behaviour. From an organisational viewpoint, we at the European Wilderness Society will improve on the traditional methods we have used, but definitely invest heavily into new concepts and ideas.

Max Rossberg
Chairman of the European Wilderness Society

My sentence is really a question: what must I ask from the world to live a good life? This age-old question is magnified in the time of globalisation, climate change and Covid. One of the things that makes us human is the ability to adapt to disturbance. That’s what makes ecological systems resilient, and what makes us, humans emotionally resilient, our relationships resilient, culturally, socially and on the planetary scale. How do I respond to disturbance? If this disturbance can enhance our resilience, than we can turn to that question with fresh eyes.

John Hausdoerffer
Dean of the School of Environment & Sustainability at the Western Colorado University, USA

What I take away from the Covid-19: up the game, accelerate, rant ever louder about the rising storm! Link up with as many young folks as possible! Set fires under those who are complacent and dismissive! Roar at the gates of politicians, call them out on futile economic growth action! Continue to argue with our senior management team at Writtle to take a lead. That’s where I’m going.

Peter Hobson
Professor of the School of Sustainable Environments at Writtle University College, UK

I think I have not experienced a slowdown. Sometimes it felt like life became more complicated, to keep on running projects, the team and so forth. But I definitely feel that this is a Memento mori moment, personally and on the society level. You should wake up every morning and think that everything could be pretty different or it could not at all. This is something we have to remember when we are stuck in our routines. You shall never be too sure about the future.

Pierre Ibisch
Professor for Nature Conservation at the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development, Germany

I agree with the others that the lockdown also has a benefit. To have a break from the daily and accelerated business in which we all are involved. To have quietness, to think about general questions in our life. Related to the future work, we, ecologists and conservationists have to continue our efforts for the protection of nature as it is the basis of all our lives. The lockdown could be a chance to use the knowledge we already have, to open doors to new opportunities, such as these meetings. However, we also need the direct contact to living nature. We have to go out, we have to teach young people how nature is functioning, and that can only be done on the field.

Hannes Knapp
Primeval Forest Expert and Expert of the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (ret), Germany

For more information on previous and future events of the Vlado Vancura Wilderness Academy, click here.

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