Is love a technology

Technology coupled with a love of nature

AstroTurf, a kind of artificial lawn, was laid out in the Olympia Park center of Sydney. A fair greening for the world's largest meeting of environmentalists. And it didn't even look out of place. It certainly corresponded to the pragmatic approach that nature conservation was imagined at the World Parks Congress (November 12-19, 2014) on the east coast of Australia. Around 5000 rangers, NGO members, activists, but also politicians and company representatives came together at the invitation of the "International Union for Conservation of Nature" (IUCN) to discuss the future of the world's protected areas.

Because as humanity plunders the natural resources of the planet, so does the pressure on national parks, forest and marine reserves. If you want to save them, you need new ideas. The old ideas seem to no longer work - or no longer good enough. Some trends now seem to be emerging.

A message of "love for nature - not its loss"

Up until now it was mainly the strategy to get people to get involved in environmental issues with drastic images of environmental degradation. Another approach is slowly gaining ground: pointing out the treasures that still remain. "It's a message of love for nature, not loss. This is the only way to motivate people to work for change," says Ed Gillespie, who runs a London PR agency and deals with sustainability issues. And that's exactly what some of the discussion panels were about: telling positive stories, promising that it's fun to get involved. Not so much about mere appeals and appeals.

"Inspirational solutions" - that is the motto of this meeting, which only takes place once a decade. The idea of ‚Äč‚Äčmotivating people positively must therefore last longer than just a few years. At least that's what the organizers hope. We want the ideas developed here at Congress to be a lasting legacy for the next generation of environmentalists, says Trevor Sandwith, director of the IUCN's Global Protected Areas Program, who organized and chaired the meeting.

In accordance with the motto of the congress, the organizers had drawn up a "Green List of Protected Areas". As a kind of counter-draft to the Red List of Endangered Species, an index with exemplary efforts to protect the environment is to be created.

But that also aroused opposition, also at the conference. "This call to protect everything that is left should not mean that we should not speak openly about the dire situation of many protected areas," said the project manager of a non-governmental organization, who preferred not to be named.

The role of business

While criticism of capitalism was seldom a long time coming in environmental debates, the World Parks Congress was also about how companies and technology companies do their part to protect the environment - and benefit from it. A lot has happened in a decade, said a participant who was also at the last meeting in Durban in 2003. At that time, the invited company representatives were still cut by many. This time there were daily rounds of talks and presentations in specially set up pavilions on the subject of "Business and biodiversity". Or large-scale funding initiatives. The US space agency NASA, technology companies such as HP and Google presented their products, which enable environmentalists and the general public to have interactive access to a wide range of satellite data.

Google Earth, for example, also controls Yale University's "Map of Life" project, which aims to bring together all of the information available worldwide on the subject of biodiversity - from satellite images of the world's forest areas and ice sheets, from satellite-based remote sensing of animal populations to information via gene databases - all on an interactive platform that should be accessible to everyone.

But the trend towards technology-based environmental protection is also evident on a smaller scale. If people can't do without their smartphones while walking in a national park, then nature has to get on their screens. For example in the form of GPS-controlled apps that provide interactive information - about special places in the parks or sights along hiking routes.

Now that summer is slowly approaching Australia, there will be plenty of opportunities to put these smartphone apps to the test in the country's national parks. But will the approach to inspiration in environmental protection actually pay off in the end? There will be plenty of time to investigate this question before the next World Parks Congress.