Thought piece: the power of gathering

© Michel Gunther / WWF

An independent thought piece by Melanie Ryan, Senior Programme Manager at the Luc Hoffmann Institute

Humans have long come together to communicate, share, convey information, solve problems, tell stories and help each other. Some of our oldest messages are evident in cave paintings, with their ochre scenes of people hunting and gathered for food, warmth and cooperation. Gathering and communication are our oldest, intertwined tools in the human toolkit. There is something timeless in the ochre and candle-lit cave images.  

Today, we come together with immediacy – still to tell stories, share information, point each other in the direction of solutions, or interrogate our own existence. Like our ancestors, these ideas and information – whether etched in ochre or shared on social media, in conferences or journals – are not just there to decorate, they are there to illuminate and inspire action.

Now as much as ever, we cannot simply sketch out our relationship with other species and systems that we share this Earth with – we must alter it. Today’s truly unsustainable biodiversity loss rates reveal that some kind of tide needs to turn to ensure human wellbeing both for current and future generations. Recent news tells of urgency, emergency, collapse, extinction – mostly ours now. It is tempting to be overwhelmed by the noise and crisis language. We need to cut through the noise. 

Biodiversity Revisited, a collaborative initiative, is exploring what questions we should be asking in order to elicit solutions and pathways for a better future. By bringing diverse stakeholders together, the initiative aspires to examine the social construct of biodiversity and consider what it would take to move closer to a new, integrated agenda to sustain life on Earth. 

At the heart of Biodiversity Revisited is gathering – one of our oldest human strategies. Through an extended process of co-creation, reflection, new connections, critical and hard conversations – Biodiversity Revisited draws together people from a variety of disciplines, sectors and persuasions in order to move from fresh, interesting ideas to new choices and action. By catalysing new networks, new ways of thinking, and outputs that serve change,the goal is an ambitious new agenda for how we produce future knowledge. Why? Because we need a fundamental change in how we frame, develop and understand our conservation solutions for the future. 

Deliberate co-creation. Purposeful gathering. 

We don’t need to reinvent our oldest tools, but they must be targeted, sharp, meaningful and expertly designed. We must co-design thoughtfully – not haphazardly. Do we have the right foundations for solutions to the existential threat to human existence? If not, how should they change? We must act, but we must not be blinded by the noise – or by our egos. Would conservation rather be effective, or simply right? Those who work for sustainability and nature have as much responsibility as any other sector to ensure that our contribution to a new future is grounded, real, aware, innovative and informed by the best knowledge, diverse expertise and human talent we can draw on. This kind of interrogation is suited to both our deepest existential crisis as well as more immediate policy and practice.  

Gathering around ideas is not an end in itself. It is what comes next that matters: through the networks, platforms, research, policies and strategies that form to bring those ideas further. We must have the courage and wisdom to make way for both short and long-term change. In a time of global conversation, Biodiversity Revisited is more important than ever – taking a road less travelled to lay the groundwork for a fundamentally different 2030 or 2050, rather than tinkering around the edges. Let us sketch in ochre and send a message to generations to come that we seized our chance to get it right. 

During September 11-13 2019, the Biodiversity Revisited initiative convenes 70 thought leaders from around the world to begin the process of developing a new research agenda for biodiversity. This diverse group will spend three days interrogating what sorts of topics need to be included to ensure that we do a better job of conserving nature. We are proud to have been certified by Global South as “Carbon Conscious” event, having purchased carbon offsets to cover the emissions related to running the Biodiversity Revisited Symposium.

Melanie Ryan is a Senior Programme Manager at the Luc Hoffmann Institute

The content of this thought piece represents the author’s own views and does not necessarily represent the views of the Biodiversity Revisited initiative nor of any of its collaborating institutions. 

The Biodiversity Revisited Symposium has been certified as Climate Conscious and 250 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions offsets have been purchased to offset the carbon emissions related to running this event. These offsets were invested in South Pole’s climate protection projects at Isangi Forest Conservation, DRC (301 701) and Mamize Nature Reserve Cookstoves, China (300 792).