Written by Tania Roa
One article. That’s all it took. One article on the sixth mass extinction underway convinced me to take action. After learning about the countless lives lost due to human development and other activities, and irreplaceable species going extinct, I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t get into the field of conservation. It seemed ridiculous to do anything else – as if I would be contributing to all those deaths if I didn’t get involved. It was the first time I felt a true calling, but I had no idea how to go about it.
When I was young, people thought I would grow up to be a veterinarian. It seemed like the only plausible career for someone who adored animals and kept asking her parents for a dog, but I was never a fan of science class. I gravitated towards English and history. How could someone who didn’t want a career in research or biology join the conservation field? It didn’t seem possible until I found one graduate program that would open a new world for me.
About six months after reading the fateful article, I returned to academia and received a Master of Science in Animals and Public Policy from Tufts University. I was excited about a career in wildlife conservation that allowed me to use my writing, history, and creativity skills and that strayed away from the scientific aspect of conservation. Once I graduated, I expected to quickly find a job with a nonprofit organization promoting the protection of wildlife. After years of being unsure where my career would start, I finally thought I was where I was supposed to be. And I was, but not in the way I had imagined.
During one of my final classes, I learned about the detrimental effects of the industrial agriculture system that exploits animals and people – specifically, marginalized communities. I learned about CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) that prioritize the profits of large corporations while taking advantage of undocumented immigrants who work long hours, have little to no breaks, and work under unsanitary conditions that lead to fatal illnesses. I also learned how these factory farms get built near communities of color and how they contribute to the higher rates of asthma in Black American neighborhoods. CAFOs disregard the animals they raise for food as well. These large-scale farming operations cage chickens, pigs, and cows in wire or concrete cells that prevent animals from acting out natural behaviors. They also feed animals based on maximizing growth rather than nutrition, leading to high rates of illnesses like their human counterparts. In an effort to decrease costs and maximize profits for billion-dollar companies, industrial agriculture systems poison those less fortunate. After hearing this, I cried right in the middle of class. As much as I wanted to be a wildlife conservationist, I knew then that whatever I did after graduate school had to emphasize the interconnections between human and animal well-being.
Instead of getting a job at an animal welfare organization as I had anticipated, I landed an internship at Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, an environmental organization that advocates for ecosystem restoration due to its powerful potential to bring back biodiversity and, as a result, improve human health. That internship eventually led to a full-time job, and since I have combined my passions for animal protection and justice for underserved communities. Outside my day job, I use wildlife photography and write articles on environmental justice to further spread awareness. Now two years after I received my master’s degree, I found my role between wildlife conservation and climate justice spaces, and I redefined what conservation means to me.
No matter what type of environmentalist you are, we are all trying to navigate a world that seems to be working against us. From droughts to floods, with people and animals increasingly at risk of injury or death due to the climate crisis, our feeds are inundated with tragic news every day. But if you find your support system, you’ll soon see plenty of positive, regenerative stories involving all species. From people planting native plants in their backyards and reaping the benefits of experiencing the natural world firsthand to those reestablishing coral reefs, our community is changing the world.
We may not be motivated by money or social status, but being a conservationist means the most powerful force on Earth drives you: love. Love for our blue and green home, nonhuman neighbors, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) brothers and sisters on the frontlines who often get neglected. When we act out of love, we know we will ultimately win, and everyone will be better for it.
For more of Tania, check out @nature_tania on Instagram