Harvey Locke

Meadowlark Nature Festival keynote speaker Harvey Locke paddling on the Nahanni River.

Harvey Locke took the idea that nature cannot be conserved in isolation and turned it into protected and interconnected habitats all along the Rocky Mountains from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon.

Now the upcoming keynote speaker at the Meadowlark Nature Festival is trying to extrapolate that principle to the rest of the world.

He believes nature needs at least half of the planet for humanity and the rest of the Earth to sustain and thrive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean cutting up the planet like a pie chart.

“You can’t protect half of the valley bottom of the South Okanagan, there’s too much taken up with other things, but you can protect important pieces and do some restoration to ensure life comes back, continues to flourish and is surviving,” Locke said in an interview this week.

“You have a lot of endangered species there, you don’t want to lose them.”

He started the Yellowstone-Yukon initiative in 1993, and he and his colleagues have made great strides since then, but he admits through his natural optimism he wants to bring a brighter outlook than the current discussions may bring to mind – pointing out a recent warning by the world’s scientists saying society is way off course and needs to turn things around fast.

“What I’m trying to do is to suggest to people despair is not the only possible option. There’s also a chance to have hope and move forward with an ambitious vision that would allow us to imagine a future that’s positive for our children and for ourselves,” Locke said.

With certain sects of the public arguing against climate change – or even the round shape of the Earth – Locke admits a narrative mistake by environmentalists and conservationists may have caused individuals to put too much of the planet’s health onto their own actions.

“If you live in the Okanagan, you don’t really have a lot of choice about whether you drive a car. You have a car because the infrastructure demands that you have a car. That’s life. You as an individual can try and change that but it’s pretty difficult,” Locke said.

Instead, he argues, mass change on a larger scale is needed. Much like his initiative’s work, he feels large, interconnected change is the way forward.

“Despair among young people is very common. Well, I’m by nature an optimist, so why don’t we articulate an optimistic vision of how we can turn that around and talk about things at scale? Scale means we have to protect the half the world in an interconnected way,” Locke said.

He pointed to initiatives like the proposed national park in the South Okanagan, or large scale conservation efforts connecting the dots as being the way forward.

Locke is the keynote speaker at the Meadowlark Nature Festival. His presentation at the Cleland Theatre goes May 18 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets are for $20 and available at meadowlarkfestival.ca.

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