Each and every year, Earth Day proves itself to be one of the most unifying and inspiring celebrations of our planet. And this year, April 22 marked the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, where TESI was lucky enough to celebrate alongside author and award-winning environmentalist, Audrey Peterman.
In the Earth Day webinar “Love to Exposure to Action: Mobilizing Advocates for our Earth,” Peterman served as the keynote speaker to a virtual audience across Florida. She spoke of change, conservation and the mischaracterized history of preserving outdoor spaces in the United States.
“We’re all in a far corner of the Milky Way galaxy,” said Peterman. “The sun, in this small solar system where Earth finds itself, shines equally on us all.”
Equity and environmentalism go hand in hand for Peterman. She said the history of our country can be found within the National Park System, where every racial and ethnic group was instrumental in bringing us where we are today. To illustrate this, she shared the contributions of Charles Young — a Black man born in to slavery during the Civil War, who served as superintendent to Sequoia National Park and led an all-Black regiment in protecting the park from poachers and wildfires in the early 1900s.
Peterman also highlighted the importance of intentionally tailoring conservation messages to specific groups. When trying to engage communities of color in conservation, she connects her message to topics already important in the lives of her audience. Showcasing the outdoors as an opportunity to spend time with family has been one such successful method of promoting the enjoyment of our outdoor spaces.
According to Peterman, we all have the rights to enjoy our public parks, and we all shoulder the responsibility to help protect them.
“When people get bit by the conservation bug… there’s a feeling of elevation and freedom, and a feeling of being connected to something greater than yourself,” Peterman said. “But unfortunately, the people who most need that feeling in America don’t get to feel it because the conservation sector is so siloed and segmented.”
Peterman encouraged the audience to help breakdown those silos by intentionally including and welcoming communities of color to take part in outdoor experiences and conservation.
Joining Audrey Peterman and moderating the webinar’s Q&A was Lillian Dinkins, a conservation leadership program fellow with Conservation Florida. Dinkins shared her organization’s work, where she safeguards local land through acquisition, conservation easements and environmental stewardship. Dinkins also reinforced Peterman’s message and encouraged everyone to get involved in the protection and preservation of natural spaces.
“At this point, on Earth Day 2021, it’s all hands on deck,” Peterman concluded. “Everyone needs to be informed, invited and engaged in the conservation message. That’s the only way we can maintain a quality of environment that can sustain human life.”