Article

10 messages of hope in dark times

Inspiration and motivation from Dr Jane Goodall, Ami Vitale, Joel Sartore, Nick Brandt, Daisy Gilardini, Chris Packham…
By Graeme Green

In times of wildlife mass extinctions, habitat loss, climate change and global pandemics, 10 photographers and conservationists provide some words of wisdom and inspiration…


Ami Vitale

Photographer

“It’s easy for people to watch television at home and think this world is a terrible, dark, scary place. But that’s not the world I know. There are incredible things happening. I see change happening, not only because of governments or big institutions, but through individuals and communities.

People are smart. We can figure a lot of things out. We’re the biggest destroyers, but we’re also able to do great wondrous things. By going out and doing something, it gives you so much energy and you start to realize how much you can do. The power of one individual is real. I see it over and over in the stories I work on. On a personal level, it helps all of us get through that deep despair. I don’t watch television any more. I just get out and engage with people instead. That gives me a different view of the world.

Climate change is real. We’re facing incredible rates of extinction. But if you’re only guided by that, it’s not going to get you out of bed every day. We have to find ways to inspire us. There is so much that we can be doing. To just sit and do nothing is the worst possible choice.”

Joel Sartore

Photographer

“People want to over-exploit everything. That’s our nature. We’re starting to see brutal consequences. A lot of animals I’ve seen are likely to go extinct in my lifetime without anyone knowing they existed. The world is a great place, full of creatures and places to save still, but do we care?

I don’t ever get depressed. I just get fired up. I don’t think about what the world is going to look like in a hundred years or 50. I just think, “What can I do with my life that will maybe help?”

I encourage people to think about what they can do. Pick something you’re passionate about. It could be wildlife. It could be social issues. It could be the environment. Sink your teeth into it and become an expert and work on that diligently. At the end of your days, you want to look in the mirror and smile, knowing you did what you could and you were part of the world. That’s a life well-lived.”

Bertie Gregory

Wildlife cameraman

“I’m hopeful for the future because the younger generation has a huge amount more environmental awareness. The genie is out of the bottle and it’s not going back in: wildlife is in trouble around the world and we should look after it. Not just because it makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside and it’s the right thing to do but we also need wildlife for everything we do. We need the natural world for clean water, productive soils, and fisheries – all kinds of things that we rely on it for and take for granted.”

Nick Brandt

Photographer

“What we’ve seen with Greta Thunberg makes me weep with joy that one little girl starting alone with a placard outside of Swedish parliament can achieve in the space of a year what she has. It shows that with the right person with the right charisma and the right words, a pretty rapid transformation of certain populations is possible.

We all need to keep doing whatever we can, however small. Everything makes a difference. It’s interesting how many of us have woken up to the horrors of plastic. As recently as a year ago, I was still using one-use plastic. I now do everything I can not to go near one-use plastic.

It doesn’t matter how small your actions are. If everyone is doing something, that’s better than doing nothing.”

Art Wolfe

Photographer

“We sometimes fail to recognise that there’s a lot of people, a lot of NGOs, environmental groups and scientists, who are out there trying to solve the world’s issues. They don’t necessarily don’t get the headlines, but they are out there and we need to not lose sight of that because to say the world is going to hell in a hand basket is not the solution. I have an unwavering hopeful attitude. The alternative is to get demoralized and throw your hands up.”

Chris Packham

Naturalist

“I’ve always been of the mind that sometimes you have to make a little bit of trouble to make a great deal of difference. We find ourselves in a time of great imperilment when we have the worst global governance that we could possibly imagine. We have a lot of people taking the wrong decisions or not making any decisions at a time of absolute crisis. It’s important that we, the democratic electorate, stand up and demand those decision-makers make the best-informed decisions.

We’ve got to keep our pressure up. I see it pretty much as a last stand situation on some accounts now. If we don’t take that last stand, then maybe we’re going to lose things that we will regret pretty shortly. There is no more time for pretending that there is some sort of utopian paradise out there and everything will be ok. That’s all gone, and it won’t be ok unless we take some fairly drastic action.”

Christian Ziegler

Photographer

“Most of the species I photograph are endangered. We’re at a tipping point in human history where we’re overstretching our natural environment and driving our fellow species to extinction. I hope my photography can make more people aware of this. For people to recognize and care about endangered species is the first step.

I’m an optimist, so I’m cautiously hopeful for our kids, but we need to fight for the future. The time is now. We need to change our behaviour and conserve key species and habitats.”

Iris Ho

Humane Society International

“Every individual can be part of the solution. It’s the collective actions we take that will drive transformational changes for the planet.

We should pressure our governments to make sure they know what the public’s demands are. When the public see their governments not doing enough, there needs to be outrage. Many millions of people have reached out to their governments and urged them to take action, whether combating wildlife trafficking or solving the climate change crisis. We have to press on because if we don’t, the inaction will continue.

We cannot give up. I know that sounds frustrating, but we only have one planet, and wildlife extinction is forever. Our governments represent us and we have every right to demand action from them.”

Dr Jane Goodall

The Jane Goodall Institute

“We are going through dark times. It is extraordinary that the most intellectual creature ever to walk the planet is destroying its only home. We tend to think of ourselves as separate from the natural world. In fact, we are part of it.

Much needs to change. We need to alleviate poverty, address the unsustainable lifestyles of so many people, address human population growth and stamp out corruption. I believe there’s a window of time when, if we get together, we can start to heal some of the harm we have inflicted, and slow down climate change.

What keeps me going is the commitment, energy and passion of young people when they understand the problems and are empowered to think of solutions and take action. Young people are changing the world.

And then there is the indomitable human spirit, the people who tackle what seems impossible and often succeed. There are so many people today fighting to protect particular species or environments. They do not always succeed, but there are hundreds of examples of success.”

Daisy Gilardini

Photographer

“I’ve been going to the polar regions for more than 20 years. The animals that live in the polar regions are very dear to me. These creatures really need the attention of the public.

Climate change is real. It’s happening now. It’s not only about saving species and protecting their habitats. It is now about protecting our species, our kind. Because we are totally destroying our habitat. 

There is still hope. We can change it.”


Ami Vitale: www.amivitale.com, Joel Sartore: www.joelsartore.com, Bertie Gregory: www.bertiegregory.com, Nick Brandt: www.nickbrandt.com, Art Wolfe: www.artwolfe.com, Chris Packham: www.chrispackham.co.uk, Christian Ziegler: christianziegler.photography, Humane Society International: www.hsi.org, The Jane Goodall Institute: www.janegoodall.org, Daisy Gilardini: www.daisygilardini.com.

Graeme Green is a photographer and journalist: www.graeme-green.com.

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NOTE: The best way to solve the crises facing the planet and its wildlife is by having open, honest, respectful conversations and hearing diverse voices from around the world. The New Big 5 project does not necessarily support or agree with every opinion or idea expressed by photographers, conservationists or organisations featured on the New Big 5 website. The many different wildlife charities, photographers, film-makers and conservationists we’ve collaborated with also do not necessarily support or agree with every idea or opinion expressed by other people or organisations on the website. It’s ok to disagree and debate. But we hope the opinions and ideas can inspire people, make people think, and be part of the conversation to help our planet and the animals that live on it.

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