Our Blog: Plants and other Stories
Hope for the future: Our youth speaks up for nature
JUNE 16, 2022
For young South Africans, there is one overriding challenge facing our natural world: a lack of awareness and a disconnect from nature. Many simply don’t realise the threats to the environment. Those who are aware of these threats don’t treat them with the urgency they deserve.
The Botanical Society of South Africa asked young members what they are worried about and how they feel young people can get involved in protecting nature. The online questionnaire highlighted one dominant theme – that more environmental education is needed if we’re to halt the biodiversity loss.
But young people are also hopeful about the future. It all comes down to getting involved in protecting our natural world – from education to volunteering, or simply to fixing and restoring ecosystems in our own gardens and towns.
Here are the insights provided by five young BotSoc members this Youth Day. We’re grateful to all our youth members who answered the questionnaire – but whom we couldn’t feature in this brief snapshot.
For 22-year old Keletso, she’s most worried about a lack of interest in nature. “The biggest challenge for me is that young people don’t know much about our natural world, either because of ignorance or just being uninterested. This is worrisome because by the time young people acknowledge its importance it would be too late.”
She believes young people have an important role to play to prevent biodiversity loss – by making conservation “a part of their life now, so that there still is biodiversity to enjoy and benefit from in future.” In order to do that, a first step is to start becoming knowledgeable about plant life and invasive species, she says, so that people can make the right decisions when restoring nature.
Being a BotSoc member simply makes sense, Keletso says. “I’m a member because conservation of really anything natural, be it habitats for wildlife or plant species or big-scale ecosystems that other people might feel getting rid of would not have a major impact, is something that should be a part of life. Keeping our world as natural as we possibly can keeps balance and would stop things like the extinction of certain species of plants.” As a member, she is already actively involved in invasive alien clearing, especially in the grassland biome, but she would do even more – especially during the holidays.
Zoë, who grew up in the Overberg district, is most worried about a lack of love and understanding of nature. She says, “Young people are disconnected from nature. Many have no interest in it, no care or love for it. In order to have a love for something you must spend time with it… not many kids and youth spend valuable time outside or in nature. The youth is more technologically obsessed and inclined.”
This 21-year old is especially worried about single-use items, and the subsequent pollution it causes. She suggests the following to young people: “If you see litter, pick it up and throw it in a bin, don’t just walk passed. Be aware of the consequences of our choices: like buying or using single-use products when there are reusable alternatives. For example buying a bottle of water everyday where you can refill a reusable bottle. Move away from single-use products to sustainable reusable products.” Even cellphones are single use, and their production can damage the environment, she says.
Zoë became a BotSoc member in order to feel like she’s contributing to conservation. And she’s benefited from the BotSoc resources, such as the conservation webinars, which allows her to become educated on particular topics. “Being educated on topics and issues brings awareness and also potential solutions, or makes you reflect on how you can do better.”
She says young people have an important role to play: “The role of young people is to slow down with over consumption and unnecessary buys. Choose greener alternatives. Be educated on nature and biodiversity, and its importance. And spend more time outdoors than indoors and connect to nature. Youth must rebuild and restore their connection with nature in order to protect and care for it. To love it. If there’s no love for it, there will be no change and drive to protect biodiversity.”
According to Frederick, 24, there’s a serious lack of environmental education – which is one of the reasons the natural world is threatened. He says, “Many go through their lives blissfully unaware of the reality and danger our natural world is facing. The more our natural world suffers, the more we do as well.”
And yet young people have an important role to play to protect nature. “We are the next generation of guardians that have the benefit of hindsight and future-sight. With the wealth of information now at our disposal being passed on from the older generation, the future lies in our hands.”
This Nature Conservation graduate says being a BotSoc member has opened a door to make a difference. “I feel more empowered, encouraged, and passion to do everything in my capability possible to make a difference.” And he lists the number of ways young people can get involved to protect nature such as joining regular alien invasive clearing projects. “Join groups, such as CREW and BotSoc, or young people can form their own groups to conserve nature. Become part of media communities such as iNaturalist. And use social media to raise awareness.”
Maite, 21, says, “The biggest challenge facing young people in terms of our natural world is the lack of knowledge about our natural surroundings. Environmental education and awareness is critical as it will help mitigate environmental problems such as global warming and pollution. And I believe the change begins with us as the youth.”
In fact, Maite highlights the importance of environmental education. “Growing up in a small township like Alexandra has a huge impact on how one acts towards the environment. Not everyone there is well informed on ways to minimise pollution or the sustainable usage of the natural resources. So since becoming a (BotSoc) member I want to raise awareness and promote environmental education because I believe it is one of the best ways of keeping the world a better place.”
As a BotSoc member, she has benefited from new channels and opportunities to learn more about plants, “and also different ways of getting involved in spreading the word in regards to plants and protecting our indigenous plant life.”
Maite has this advice for young people: “Follow the 3 Rs: Reduce, reuse and recycle. Help clean up and protect beaches, parks, reserves, and fields where wild plants and animals live. Volunteer your time. Find out about environmental organisations in your area.” She also suggests volunteering in botanical gardens and nature reserves, and starting awareness campaigns especially against poaching and over-harvesting of plants. Young people can even support by “offering practical help like planting plants in schools, township and any other places in need of plants. And also participate in activities where invasive alien plant species are managed and removed from the environment.”
She says, “One doesn’t have to be an environmental specialist, botanist or a nature conservationist to conserve and protect nature, all it takes is just passion and with the correct information and knowledge a lot can happen.”
Talia, 26, says her biggest concern is climate change. “The rising temperature puts a strain on our biodiversity as plants may require more water to survive. In areas that do not receive enough rain, this could prove to be detrimental. Extreme weather conditions could affect our survival and livelihoods.”
She believes young people can play a role in preventing biodiversity loss, by creating awareness and by finding scientific solutions to minimise these losses. But there’s a lot young people can do to help – without even leaving their homes. Talia says, “You can start at home, by removing alien species from your garden and planting more indigenous plant life.”
Talia is a BotSoc member because of her passion for nature and especially plants. But as a member, she has also been able to network with others who love nature. “Being a member has allowed me to interact with people that share similar interests. If I am faced with a challenge I can always reach out to other BotSoc members and they would provide assistance and input where possible.”
Talia remains optimistic about the future: “A little goes a long way. Together we can make a difference in conserving South Africa’s rich biodiversity.”
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