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Bella Lack: Youth Director for Reserva YLT

"What if I told you that young people were raising money through lemonade stands and car boot sales to buy thousands of hectares of rainforest? It sounds improbable, maybe even impossible, but that is exactly what we’re doing."

Bella Lack is a Youth Director for Reserva: Youth Land Trust, an initiative that empowers youth to make a measurable difference in the future of our planet through projects in three impact areas - conservation, education, and storytelling. For International Day of Forests, Bella has shared insight into the work Reserva is doing for the Chocó Cloud Forest in Ecuador, and her motivations behind driving positive environmental change.

By Bella Lack, Youth Director for Reserva: The Youth Land Trust

I’m Bella Lack. I’m a 17-year-old environmental campaigner. I was born, and still live, on the outskirts of London; a liminal space where I can be in the midst of nature in Richmond Park, yet still hear the ambient hum of London drowning out all else.

I have always been enchanted by nature. Most young children are. Whether it was the colonies of ants in my garden, the herds of deer that populated the park or the foxes which woke me up with their curdling screams in the night, I have always seen the world as wild and thrumming with life - even in the city. However, my youthful faith in the strength of nature has been eroded over time.

When I was 11, I watched a video about palm oil, the ubiquitous substance found in many of our products which causes catastrophic deforestation when harvested unsustainably. It was this one video which sparked something within me. I watched the baby orangutans orphaned and crying out pitifully for their mothers. I watched the verdant patchwork of forest being stripped and ravaged. How on earth could we so willingly and mindlessly be causing so much destruction? It was this amalgamation of passion and confusion which propelled me to take action.

Bella Lack - Credit to Charlie Forgham-Bailey 2

Bella's amalgamation of passion and confusion propelled her to take action. Credit: Charlie Forgham-Bailey

A responsibility to act

Anyone who does this, who takes action or is proactively opposed and speaking up against wrongdoing, is called an activist. However, I still try to shirk from this word being associated with what I do. I don’t want people to think that protecting our planet is an issue for a select and passionate minority. It’s not. It’s a crisis which underpins the way our societies will function and, ultimately, the fate of our existence as homo sapiens. If your house was on fire and you tried to put out the flames, you wouldn’t call yourself a firefighter; you’re just doing what you have to do. I still don’t feel like an activist. Protecting our only home is no longer the responsibility of a select few; it’s a job and moral obligation for everyone who inhabits it - activist or not.

I will admit, it is not easy. The fate of life on earth is such an implicitly emotive subject that it’s hard to strike a balance between pragmatism and emotion. When you pour most of your time and energy into a cause, it becomes all consuming. Your thoughts and actions and relations with others are dictated by this cause. One of the greatest challenges, therefore, is to sustain the action without ‘burning out’. Of course, there is always a gnawing fear and hopelessness that you are losing the battle, so I’ve found it necessary to look to the future. Not the future of floods and fights and fires commonly evoked by activists of catastrophes and annihilation, but the one where forests are thriving, oceans are cleaner, the air is more breathable and species populations are more stable. It’s also important to look to this future because imagination is the precursor to creation. We live at an incredible time, the fulcrum of two futures, and it’s our imagination and will to act which will dictate the future we choose.

Saving our rainforests through Reserva YLT

Now, what if I told you that young people were raising money through lemonade stands and car boot sales to buy thousands of hectares of rainforest? It sounds improbable, maybe even impossible, but that is exactly what we’re doing.

Earlier this year I helped to set up Reserva: Youth Land Trust, not knowing much about the successful business-person lingo of NGOS or NPOs or 501(c)s. However, it seemed to me that when passion and persistence prevail, almost anything is accomplishable - especially when the future of your species is at stake. You see, we don’t have a choice because studies have shown that in order to prevent catastrophic runaway climate change and biodiversity loss, in the next decade we need to have over 50% of land on Earth protected. Right now, we’re just under 20%.

But we are working on the first entirely youth-funded nature reserve in the Choco rainforest in Ecuador. Every 3 dollars that a child donates protects a plot of rainforest the size of a classroom.

Bella Lack - Hylocirtus sp. nov. tree frog

A Hylocirtus sp. nov. - a new species of tree frog living in the area Reserva YLT is protecting. Credit: Callie Broaddus

You can drive positive change too

To anyone wanting to make change and create this future, I would recommend that you find a way to bundle up action with your passions. We need conventional activism, like campaigning, but we also need other forms. Creative means like books, films and music can send subtle and subliminal messages of change. Chefs and lawyers and businesses and teachers all have a role. We all do. There are 7.7 billion of us, and I can guarantee that we will never have 7.7 billion activists on this planet. However, we should all strive to make our lives and communities as ethical and sustainable as we can. It feels overwhelming and confusing, but when faced with confusion humans have always used two things to bring clarity:

  1. Narratives and stories. These can create a vision of the future, so we can move towards it.
  2. Character. If we follow the basic and logical rules of morality, we should be ok. For example: don’t take more than necessary or others won’t have enough. Act with care and caution, not recklessness. Protect other forms of life rather than exploiting them.

One more thing to remember is the power you have to affect change. It goes without saying that any system is made up of components. That’s us. We’re the building blocks of this structure. We’re the citizens and the consumers and although an individual action won’t save the world, when our actions accumulate through unity and community, they have an impact on political, social and economic structures, things will change. We can be the catalysts of structural change. Whatever your age, you have a voice and it’s your responsibility to use it.

More than ever, young people are challenging the stereotype of us as a depoliticised demographic incapable of useful collective action. We are recognising the crises and harnessing our energy and passion for change. Nothing is as powerful as when a group of determined visionaries come together to create something beautiful. That’s what we must do; create a beautiful new future. As a human, you are and will be a big part of that because if we want to persist as a species, we must do it together.

Follow Reserva YLT on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or find out more via their website.

Article published: 19th March 2020

Main asset credit: Charlie Forgham-Bailey


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