To inspire action for greater justice and sustainability
To inspire action for greater justice and sustainability
What we call NATURAL NEIGHBORS are national parks, historic sites, museums, zoos, botanic gardens, and similar places. In a given metropolitan or other well-defined region we encourage those responsible to work together in engaging with the public — and we have specific purposes and reasons in mind.
There have always been good reasons for getting people to spend time in nature. It’s good for their physical and mental health. If they learn about the plants and animals, the rocks and the water, so much the better.
And there have always been good reasons for people to learn about the history of the place where they live and about what is going on around them now. Because if they have a sense of belonging to the place where they live, they are more likely to participate responsibly in public life.
But now there is a new layer of reasons for connecting people to their natural and cultural heritage. The world is faced with a set of unprecedented and interdependent global crises: climate change and biodiversity loss, and their effects on our security, prosperity, and health.
All of us need to do whatever we can to move the world, or at least our own part of the world, toward greater justice and sustainability.
Natural Neighbors is an initiative of InterEnvironment Institute. Ten Points of Inspiration is part of Natural Neighbors. The ideas for them came out of several strands of thought and practice.
Over many years at meetings of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), of which the Institute is a member, we have participated, and sometimes organized, discussions about how to make nature conservation more effective. More recently we have been involved in an ambitious initiative led by the World Academy of Art & Science and the Club of Rome to find ways of changing the world’s mindsets toward justice and sustainability.
OUR URBAN INITIATIVE
Beginning in 2005, the Institute led an effort within IUCN to encourage the global conservation movement to give more attention to urban people, urban places, and urban institutions. This resulted in the IUCN publications The Urban Imperative (2005) and Urban Protected Areas: Profiles and Best Practices (2015). Among our findings was a general lack of systematic cooperation in any given metropolitan area among conservation agencies, museums, and similar institutions.
WHAT WE FOUND IN VISITS TO 14 CITIES
We took a closer look at this and produced a report based on visits to 80 museums, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, science centers, and protected areas in and around 14 cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, London, Paris, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne, and Hobart (Tasmania). In addition to a lack of cooperation we found (a) a failure by most museums and similar institutions to show visitors where to go to experience nature where they live; (b) a lack of exhibits about local nature; and (c) a failure in many such institutions to sell books about nature in their regions or about local history. There were notable exceptions that showed what can be done, including the Chicago Wilderness Alliance, a coalition of hundreds of organizations in parts of four states.
LAUNCHING NATURAL NEIGHBORS
Natural Neighbors was launched as an activity of InterEnvironment Institute in cooperation with IUCN's World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) The reasoning behind it was: (a) People need to spend time in nature for their own health and well-being, beginning in early childhood. (b) They are much more likely to support conservation everywhere when they appreciate nature where they live. (c) They are more likely to have a sense of belonging and of civic responsibility when they appreciate their region’s history and culture, as well as its natural environment.
The purpose of Natural Neighbors was defined as "introducing greatly increased numbers of urban people to the natural and cultural heritage of the regions where they live ... by promoting alliances in metropolitan areas and other regions of organizations devoted to protecting and interpreting natural and cultural heritage. This includes:
· Creating more and better exhibits about local and regional nature and history;
· Museums directing visitors to natural areas and historic sites nearby;
· Conservation areas and historic sites directing visitors to nearby museums;
· Carrying a good selection of guides to regional natural and human history;
· Cooperating in engaging with the under-served;
· Encouraging exhibits and activities linking nature, history, literature, and the arts;
· Including exhibits and activities about nature conservation, historic preservation, climate change, and benefits of outdoor exercise and contact with nature."
Meetings were held about Natural Neighbors in Chicago and New York City, and there were preliminary discussions in Brazil, Israel, and Jamaica. Natural Neighbors was discussed at George Wright Society conferences in 2015 and 2017, and in a workshop held at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawai'i. [The paper for the 2017 GWS conference is the most detailed: Ted Trzyna, "Connecting People, Nature, and Culture through Metropolitan Conservation Alliances," Paper No. 21 in the conference proceedings]
IN LOS ANGELES
In the Los Angeles area, InterEnvironment Institute explored organizing Natural Neighbors under the auspices of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy of the California Natural Resources Agency. Separate meetings were held with key players and a workshop was held with representatives of 20 organizations including federal, state and local conservation agencies, museums, botanic gardens, a zoo, and a publisher of books on California natural history. A senior staff member of Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History gave a presentation on the Chicago Wilderness Alliance.
Although there was interest in continuing these discussions, the main outcome of this exploratory project in Los Angeles was a consensus among its participants that a common message was needed for their visitors that would include reliable and up-to-date information on climate change and biodiversity loss, with observable examples in the local area. Another important outcome was interest by the leadership of a federal agency in using the Natural Neighbors concept nationally, with pilot projects in Los Angeles and five other cities, but a new federal Administration had other priorities.
A CENTRAL MESSAGE AND THEMES
In response to the expressed need for a common message the Institute proposed an overarching slogan, Inspiring action for greater justice and sustainability, with six themes:
The first five of these themes are about both means and ends. For example, respecting human rights is an imperative in itself, and also makes possible progress in the other four areas. These relationships are an example of the sixth theme, Interconnectedness. [See Justice and sustainability]
ON THE ISLAND OF HAWAI'I
Meanwhile, the Institute was invited to engage with leaders on the Island of Hawai’i in the U.S. state of Hawai'i on ways of securing global recognition of the island as a symbol of harmony, discovery, respect for nature, and Native Hawaiian rights and culture. This included exploring options available through United States Government as well as intergovernmental programs such as the World Heritage system and other initiatives of UNESCO. Other models for designation of heritage sites were examined, including the European Union's European Heritage Label and several national and sub-national programs.
AMBITIOUS PLANS — THEN, THE PANDEMIC
We were planning next steps in Los Angeles and had started organizing an ambitious project called Global Beacons of Hope at the beginning of 2020 but then the COVID-19 pandemic happened and we had to pull back. Although we plan to return to the global project in some form, we realized the concept could be just as useful at other levels of geography, in some cases more so.
TEN POINTS OF INSPIRATION
Focusing on areas near our base in Southern California, we developed the concept of Ten Points of Inspiration, bringing together several of the ideas described above. In a region centered on one or more national parks or similar areas we select ten places we call Points of Inspiration that can serve as beacons to inspire people to do whatever they can for greater justice and sustainability. These Ten Points of Inspiration represent people who have made a difference and the values they stand for such as human rights, fairness, and respect for nature. [Details]
The pilot project is in the Mojave Desert: Ten Points of Inspiration in and around the National Parks of California’s Mojave Desert: Places Where People Have Made a Difference — Showing Us How We Can Build a More Just and Sustainable Future.
PART OF A MOVEMENT
We see Natural Neighbors and Ten Points of Inspiration as part of a movement, still fragmented and not well defined, to bring together nature and culture in conservation practice and to find ways of changing mindsets and behavior toward justice and sustainability. The nature-culture effort has been led by the U.S. National Park Service, IUCN, and UNESCO's World Heritage program. Based on social and behavioral science, including the field of positive psychology, the 2020 IUCN World Conservation Congress adopted a resolution supporting "behavior-centered solutions" for nature conservation.
Below (left to right): Main hall of London's Natural History Museum, one of the institutions visited, on a busy weekend. Topographic map of Hawai'i Island. Los Angeles Natural Neighbors workshop.