2020: Reflections on a Challenging Year

Dec 23, 2020

2020: Reflections on a Challenging Year

Dec 23, 2020

 

We can rise to challenges, or we can resign ourselves to fate. Many have been quick to label 2020 as a “bad” year, as if we had no role in its making or how we respond to it. The challenges were real: a global pandemic, a renewed fight for racial justice, the increasingly present manifestations of environmental change, all converging on an already unequal economy. Yet, all of these were familiar challenges and unfortunately none of them will magically disappear when we ring in the new year. The true measure of any year isn't simply what came our way but how we responded to it.

I've been deeply gratified, heartened, and encouraged by the response from our community of naturalists, our partner organizations and our CalNat team. It is worth taking a few moments to reflect on this last trip around the sun.

In March of 2020, the California Naturalist Team shifted gears quickly when we realized that our annual plans for the program weren't going to happen as usual. Exactly half of scheduled CalNat courses (18 of 36) from late February to December were cancelled. In response, staff focused on: updating our program content; identifying safe alternatives for course delivery and contactless volunteer service opportunities; transitioning training and convening to online formats; and pursuing grant funding for our program and partners. Over the last eight months we conducted three online Project Learning Tree workshops, two online instructor training workshops, organized an invasive species monitoring training, launched the first three webinars in our new CONES series, prepared three grant proposals, and successfully piloted the new UC Climate Stewards course. We also completely updated our program's strategic goal on diversity, equity and inclusion.  

Our partner organizations also responded. Many shifted to online course delivery. Others adjusted group size and delivery methods to offer courses that ensured program quality and participant safety. All our partners shared the lessons they've learned freely. In one case, Dr. Laci Gerhart-Barley's course produced a paper for the journal Ecology and Evolution entitled, “Teaching An Experiential Field Course Via Online Participatory Science Projects: A COVID-19 Case Study of a UC California Naturalist Course.” Others put their courses on hold but used their naturalist knowledge to engage their clientele through livecast or recorded virtual field trips. Almost everyone rediscovered nature in their immediate surroundings whether it was their backyard, a tree outside their window or a local park. Finally, while very few escaped the challenges of 2020, so many of you still found a way to give back to the growing number of people and organizations who are barely struggling to get by.

Like its name suggests, 2020 brought into focus significant challenges to our vision of environmental stewardship. Our best science falls flat if it lands on deaf ears. Our individual actions, while important, need to be scaled up to match the level of the problems before us. Our ideals of racial justice can't be separated from other aspects of our work. And no matter how difficult our conditions may get, we still have the capacity to give. By this measure, 2020 has been a year of transformational learning.  It challenged our assumptions and our perception of what is needed for environmental stewardship. Like the vaccines that will activate antibodies in our bloodstream, 2020 was the shot in the arm we needed to reinvigorate our efforts to build more resilient and equitable communities and ecosystems. 


By Gregory Ira
Author - Director, UC California Naturalist Statewide Program