OWOO Attends Sustainability Conference at UCI

Last week the University of California, Irvine was the temporary home for 75 conservation advocates from 25 countries, who had gathered to attend the Empowering Sustainability on Earth seminar series. Over the course of five days, more than 40 presentations, all open to the public, covered various topics related to sustainability. Lectures were given by established conservation experts as well as students newly embarking on careers in sustainability, who presented their work and perspectives on addressing environmental challenges.

This was the second conference of its kind at UCI. The inaugural seminar series a year ago sparked a meaningful dialogue among attendees that persisted long after the week was over, and that is the most remarkable aspect of this event: it connects young activists to a network of like-minded people from around the world, cultivating future leaders of the international sustainability movement.

Participating as a Sustainability Fellow last year (while I was experiencing the strange hiatus after school ended and life as a professional had yet to begin) was a truly enriching and inspiring experience for me. Last week, I was again lucky enough to attend some of the seminars and engage with the other Fellows. This time, however, I was representing One World One Ocean. I had the honor of giving a presentation with my friend and colleague Kimmy Helling about our efforts to restore and protect the ocean. It was our first opportunity to give a formal talk on behalf of the campaign. We were nervous (a live audience and PowerPoint slides are nothing like recording the Weekly Dive!), but were rewarded afterwards by encouraging comments and new avenues for dialogue and engagement with our peers at the conference.

The presence of people from many backgrounds provided perspectives from outside one’s country or peer group and enhanced the discussions, which continued after-hours. This year's conference successfully heightened the group’s awareness of the range of challenges faced around the world, but also of many possible solutions.

For example, participants from developing countries – such as Costa Rica, Nigeria, and Haiti – often commented on the unsustainable infrastructure of our region, highlighting problems that locals might not be conscious of. They were amazed by our dependence on cars and the amount of water we use to maintain our green lawns in a desert climate. Representatives from places like India and Russia shared stories of how poverty and war in their home countries were harming both human life and the environment – and showed how the solutions for peace and for conservation can be the same, as was eloquently portrayed by the story of an environmental peace project in Israel and Palestine. Hearing so many different perspectives helped each of us to see our society, our consumption, and our world through a different lens.

Attending and presenting at the Empowering Sustainability on Earth seminar series was, indeed, empowering. We came together with people from extraordinarily diverse backgrounds and found that, though we are from different walks of life, we are all working in our respective fields – law, research, education, consulting, and so forth – towards the same ultimate goal: a future that is sustainable for humans as well as the global ecosystem. And moreover, we can help one another to achieve that.

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