Global Biodiversity Summit keynote encourages advocacy through storytelling

Natalia Sperry

Storytelling and human connectivity, subjects not often emphasized in the scientific community, were at the forefront of Colorado State University’s Global Biodiversity Summit’s welcome keynote.

A diverse group of students, community members, researchers and advocates within the field of conservation and University officials gathered together in the Lory Student Center Theater on Oct. 11 to discuss the importance of global biodiversity.

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According to CSU’s Global Biodiversity Center , biodiversity is the measure of variety within the ecosystems that constitute all life on earth. It can be studied from the local to global scale and across the many levels of organization, and maintains life on our planet.

“The GBC’s mission is to understand, conserve and appreciate biodiversity and all life’s variation,” said Chris Funk, director of the GBC and professor in the department of Biology. “We do this through research, policy advancement, education and outreach.”

As the first of its kind at CSU, the Global Biodiversity Summit follows the University’s success as a leading global institution in biodiversity conservation research, ranked tenth in the world by the Center for World University Rankings. According to Funk, the purpose of the summit is to address why is biodiversity needed in the 21st century, and demonstrate how people can take action to reverse issues within the field.

“Our planet’s ecosystem is becoming less and less diverse every day,” Funk said.

University President Tony Frank spoke on the importance of biodiversity both globally and within the CSU community.

“Biodiversity is not a small topic,” Frank said. “And it is also increasingly an area of concern … we are a University that is firmly committed to the science and practice of sustainability, and we believe that we have an obligation to spearhead conversations and interactions on which our shared future depends.”

The keynote speaker Dr. M. Sanjayan, chief executive officer of Conservation International, used humor and storytelling to get across the point that in order to make real change, the conservation community must give biodiversity a human face.

Sanjayan demonstrated this necessity for human connection by showing a short film from Conservation International’s series “Nature is Speaking ,” which personified Mother Nature, voiced by actress Julia Roberts . The film series features other celebrities, such as Harrison Ford, who also serves as vice chair for the global organization.

“Nature doesn’t need people,” Sanjayan said, summarizing the film. “But people need nature.”

Sanjayan shared anecdotes from his own career and personal life to demonstrate what can come from providing people with tangible incentives in order to promote conservation and biodiversity.

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“Most of the landscape is human dominated landscape and unless you give people some direct connection to conservation, where they’re benefiting from it, it’s very hard to (get them involved.)” Sanjayan said.

As an advocate who has had a vocal presence in online media, Sanjayan stressed the idea of storytelling as an essential tool in instilling effective change.

“A lot of times when we’re communicating, we forget that it’s not just the story that matters,” Sanjayan said. “When you think about stories (when communicating) biodiversity or conservation, don’t just think about the story you’re trying to say. Think about the messenger.”

Focusing on the idea of conservation itself, Sanjayan also stressed the importance of tropical forests and mangroves, swamp-like areas that grow in coastal areas, to reducing carbon emissions. According Conservation International, the destruction of mangroves alone contributes to six percent of the Earth’s carbon emissions.

“If there’s one thing we could actually do in our lifetime to change the climate verdict … it would be stopping the destruction of mangroves.”

This discussion of tropical ecosystems roles within the carbon cycle continued as the GBC opened up the end of the summit to a Q&A session with the community.

Executive director of the Fundación Neotrópica, an organization from Costa Rica which specializes in fair and equitable distribution of the benefits generated by natural resources Bernardo Gonzalez shared his perspective on the matter.

“One of the things that mangroves … also are inhabited places. This is mostly by poor communities that have been marginalized in these undesirable swamps,” Gonzalez said. “One of the challenges that is going on right now is the tension that exists between (conservation groups) and these communities.”

Students such as Alyssa Bareda, a senior zoology major, also became involved in the discussion about the importance of biodiversity.

“We need (biodiversity) because this world contributes everything we need,” Bareda said. “I think that it’s important to be aware of the impact biodiversity has on us as people in a positive way. Biodiversity … is healthy for us, just as much as it is for individual ecosystems.”

The Global Biodiversity Summit will continue on Oct. 12, and is also open to all CSU students, faculty and the entire Front Range community.

The all-day events will feature activities such as two panel sessions with speakers across disciplines from biology to business, in the LSC’s North Ballroom on “Preserving Biodiversity” and “Fostering a Biodiverse Future.” A poster session will follow, where researchers can present their work to the public. Later, aquatic conservation researcher Wendy Palen will speak at the closing keynote. The summit will end with a showing of the film Yasuní Man in the LSC Theater.

“With the nature of social media today, it’s not very hard … for people to get involved in these issues,” Sanjayan said. “It really can make a difference.”

Collegian news reporters Natalia Sperry can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Natalia_Sperry.