On the 31st January 2019, I was honoured and privileged to attend the #iwill4nature launch at the Zoological Society, London. As a budding naturalist and biologist, it was so exciting, to not only springboard a campaign which will engage, excite and demand action by young people, but to do it in such a place, was fantastic.
I was joined in London by fellow #iwill ambassadors and organisations which have pledged to support the campaign’s ‘Year of Green Action’. It is of the utmost importance, to me, that my generation challenge the adults of today because it is clear that our planet is suffering immeasurable destruction and decimation. This affects us all, but it will affect the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest. The leaders and powerful people who have known, but chosen to ignore at best, at worst, deny – the problems we are facing – deserve to be held accountable.
I am justifiably angry, but anger alone is a useless emotion. It needs to be coupled with action and I am fortunate that organisations such as #iwill, allow me to raise my voice, encourage hope: but most of all, demand action. Below is the speech I delivered at the launch. It was astonishing and surprising, that I got a standing ovation from the audience! As an autistic teenager, my journey from bullied, silent and isolated child, to the person I am today, has been astounding. I have no idea how I have got to this point, but I know I will continue to use my voice and my social action to endeavour to make the world a better place, for all natural life.
“In 2007, the Oxford Junior Dictionary removed words including acorn, bluebell, conker, kingfisher and Ivy and replaced them with attachment, broadband, celebrity, chatroom and voicemail. In 2013 the RSPB reported in a baseline survey, that four out of five children are disconnected from nature and in 2018, the WWF reported a 60% decline in wild species since 1970. Words, wisdom and wildlife; disappearing before our eyes.
In addition, my generation are labelled ‘apathetic’ ‘self-indulgent’ and ‘less focused’. Adults are in control of the words we use, the access to wildlife we have and the amount of species there are to know about, learn from and share our world with… and the ill-founded perspective that we are a lost generation. Is it any wonder that almost a quarter of young people are experiencing mental health difficulties?
Our world is increasingly divided between attainment, materialism and self-analysis. We are at a tipping point in the relationship we have with ourselves, each other and our world. A world which is so intricately connected, so interdependent, so intrinsically linked, so delicate. The power struggle between huge organisations, economics, development and the species we share our planet with is growing so out of control that it is easy to become overwhelmed and disconnected.
I realised that focusing in on a local level, on my immediate surroundings, I could become positive, hopeful and productive. I started writing my blog age twelve , volunteering at age thirteen , public speaking, leading groups of kids and creating educational resources at age fourteen . I began to feel like I was making a difference, not just to creating awareness of the species I shared my everyday with, but to the people I was connecting with. The social action I was involved in gave me amazing opportunities and a growing courage and determination.
I am autistic and the challenges that come with my differently wired brain, leaves me open to extreme anxiety and depression. My intense connection to the natural world, eases and alleviates these debilitating feelings. When we are immersed in nature, I think we become less focused on ourselves and more aware of the other organisms around us – trees, plants, birds – and mammals if we’re lucky. We experience innate joy, and perhaps realise that we are in a perfect position to make sure that all this magnificent beauty is cared for and protected. We are custodians of our planet and this message should be shouted from every rooftop, every school, every government building, every business, every leader; because if our natural world becomes even more diminished, human beings cannot actually survive. See, it is so easy to fall into this nihilistic trap and this is because people aren’t paying attention! My mental health has really suffered because of the inaction of many, but it has also been healed by the work which I have been involved in.
When I started an ‘Eco Group’ at school, I didn’t know if anyone would turn up, because we are led to believe that young people don’t care. I was wrong. We are full to bursting with all ages and those who take part report feeling more excited about and caring towards nature and wildlife. They were just waiting for the opportunity. We need more opportunities to take meaningful action.
When I became an #iwill ambassador, I immediately felt even more hopeful, because I would be supported and maybe, in this year of green action, the message could finally be amplified to an extent that many more young people could be involved. And maybe, just maybe, the people in power to actually make a massive difference, would; because it is our future they are stealing. Our well-being that is lost in the mix of struggling to live in this fast paced and fiercely competitive world. If I, a fourteen year old kid, can say I will act for nature, I will act for mental health, I will act compassionately and carefully when I am making decisions which impact on the health of nature, then perhaps so can everyone else. Will you?
Dara, 14, is an #iwill Ambassador from Northern Ireland. Dara joined the campaign in 2018, and you can read his ambassador profile here. Dara is an active campaigner on Twitter as @NaturalistDara , and writes an award-winning blog here.