By Ariana Magini
I was extremely grateful to be granted the opportunity of being flown down to Sydney to present my research at the national Students for Sustainability conference. The conference was held at the Western Sydney University Hawkesbury campus on September 15th and 16th, and was attended by over 100 delegates, representing 17 universities from around Australia. The theme for the conference was “HOPE for the Future”, and presentations explored the social and environmental impacts of our current society and where the youth can lead it into the future. Thirty current undergraduate and honours students presented their projects of sustainable and innovative ideas and solutions to issues related to the environment, food, and/or ethics. Six keynote speakers, including Christine Milne (former Australian Greens leader), and Stephanie Lorenzo (CEO of Project Futures), shared their expertise and advice for how to apply sustainable changes and told of their experiences on doing so.
I attended this conference unaware of what to expect, but returned full of inspiration and newfound knowledge. It is easy for young people to feel powerless in the face of the huge challenges that our society is experiencing. Yet this convergence of proactive students demonstrated that we are not limited by the out-dated and unsustainable practices of past generations- there is much room for improvement, and we have the intelligence to make the necessary changes. Something that really resonated with me were Stephanie Lorenzo’s words, “our generation sees that purpose is more important than profit”. In my opinion, the days of professions that seek only to bring wealth are numbered, while I see more and more youth actively pursuing careers that allow them to “be the change [they] wish to see in the world,” (Gandhi). That is my ambition anyway.
The sustainable solutions presented were far-reaching. Presentations related to food addressed the issues of food security, with solutions including changing the education system and food industry in order to improve the mainstream understanding of agricultural practices; reduce food waste; and transition to more sustainable methods, including the potential for insect protein. Solutions to environmental issues included the need to transition away from fossil fuel energies and move towards technologies such as renewable-based smart grids, with more consumer autonomy of electricity use; and evaluating the laws of property rights for land with conservation significance could allow for successful maintenance of biodiversity. Ethical sustainability may be improved with online mental health screening surveys that allow for easy diagnosis and referral of patients that are otherwise without contact.
My presentation considered the challenges faced within conservation science and the improvements required for effective protection of biodiversity and natural systems. I worked with Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson, in collaboration with six other researchers, on the first comprehensive global database analysis of conservation research within the literature. We analysed 8,111 publications, of the year 2014, from 274 countries, and found several trends of bias within the literature that obstructed the implementation of effective conservation practice. Biases include the lack of: open access journals, and the underrepresentation of developing countries; countries of high conservation importance; and authors led in-country. Our study did however find evidence of hope for solutions. There exists an emerging trend of increasing numbers of open access platforms. Additionally, the countries that spend more money on education and research produce more conservation research led in-country. Therefore my presentation concluded that knowledge is power, and our best chance of creating change and conserving natural systems is with improved education and awareness.