By Shonali Palacios June 18, 2021

Why I’m with Defend Our Future

I think I got on track to working at Defend this summer through TV.  I was an Animal Planet kid feeling stuck in the city and I binged hours of content from people like Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin, shooting nature programs thousands of miles away. I was nature obsessed. When we moved from DC to New Delhi I vaguely remember my parents getting me excited at the prospect of our move by promising in India I would be able to see tigers in the wild. You get the picture. Well, at the time of our move, 2006, there were just an estimated 1,411 tigers living in the wilds of the entire subcontinent of India. And we lived in one of the most densely populated cities on earth. So no, I didn’t see one. What I did start to see a little more was the amount of pollution created by a city of hundreds of thousands, and how a significant portion of that population lived by necessity in polluted parts of the city. Obviously, as an eight or nine year old I would never have been able to articulate this, but the stirring feeling that we as a community were doing something fundamentally wrong was underlying. 

Since then a lot has changed for me, I moved back to the States, finished high school, and started college. I’m majoring in Environmental Analysis at Washington University in St. Louis (go Bears!), and I’ve evolved in my understanding of nature from something that exists in little pockets of natural parks in other countries to something that we have a constant relationship with, something that exists all around us — even in urban environments.  After returning home, I also understand that vulnerable communities on the frontlines of environmental degradation are every bit as much of an American issue as it was an Indian one.

Like I said, as much as I’d like to pretend I had a special relationship with plants or birds, my early interest and education on conservation efforts came in large part from television and the internet. I joined Defend Our Future because I believe it’s an organization that understands the issues and how to engage with my generation  —  whether that’s through Campus Ambassadors or social media. Defend is also focused on the issues that matter to me, as an organization that puts environmental justice at the heart of its work, effectively mobilizing young people like myself who have some understanding of systemic inequalities relating to environmental issues, but perhaps have not yet been empowered to act meaningfully on this understanding; getting people to organize, vote, and speak to their representatives. 

I love people. I am eternally optimistic in our ability to make the right choices for each other and for the earth given the necessary resources and information. That’s why, even with a global pandemic, wildfires raging out west, and global record highs of atmospheric carbon dioxide being set, I still believe there’s hope for the future. That’s also why I’m so excited to work with Defend Our Future this summer — to become a part of disseminating that information in order to secure that brighter future.

(I’d like to close by noting that as of 2019 India’s tiger population had more than doubled since I lived there. Maybe I’ll see one next time.)