Converting apathy into action is something I have studied firsthand this past semester during my experience abroad in Ecuador. Unbeknownst to many, a small but exponentially growing community of approximately 15,000 people populates the Galapagos Islands. These islands, completely unique in their flora and fauna, were just recently taken off UNESCO’s list of endangered World Heritage sites. Still a large number of endemic species are endangered. The root of these problems is not the influx of tourists whose mission is to observe these species in their natural habitat, but rather within the local community who wishes to enjoy the same lifestyle practiced by those on the mainland. As I studied abroad here observing people-environment interactions on these islands, I began to tackle this exact question.
There is often such a lack of interest in environmental protection due to a lack of knowledge or understanding of the environment around them. Environmental education through any means of mass communication is elemental in the conversion of apathy into interest. I inquired my host family and other community members about the endangered species on the islands, and responses included statements such as “there are sea lions everywhere, how can they be endangered?” and “when they try to place bans on fishing the fishermen will revolt.” It is not logical to be interested in something you don’t understand or acknowledge. My experience as a college student has demonstrated to me the effectiveness of social media. I can name offhand countless peers who have no interest in environmental issues but follow environmental accounts on social media programs such as Instagram. These accounts basically exist to provide people with a glimpse into the world’s unique, rare phenomena. However, with such a broad clientele, have the ability to promote environmental issues to an extensive population, increasing awareness and therefore interest.
A more difficult task would be to convert this interest then into action. Drawing back to my studies on the Galapagos, action is based in self-interest. I met with several of these fishermen, whose families had previously revolted against environmental protection laws. Due to a change in the Galapagos economy, from fish trade to eco-tourism, these same families were suddenly advocating for increased environmental protection policy. Having the population’s interest is irrelevant if not acted upon. If interest is self-invested, action will be taken to protect this interest. Educating the public to illustrate how the environment facilitates them will spark the right kind of interest to invoke action. This facilitation can be cultural or economical, but its end result will be the same.