"If not me, then who?"
Taegen Yardley is a 17 year old conservation activist and Arctic Angel, from Vermont, USA. Taegen believes whole-heartedly in the power of the individual voice and has dedicated her time to filmmaking and mobilizing youth to raise awareness of the ecological crisis.
Since the age of twelve, I have been making short documentaries that are intended to raise awareness about the plight of our planet’s most critically endangered species and critical issues. This experience has provided me with the privilege of witnessing the ripple effect of my voice and other young voices of my generation which are being heard around the world.
I became aware of the plight of our planet’s elephants when a speaker came to my sixth-grade class to educate us about the ivory trade. Because of the interest I expressed, I was asked to testify at the Vermont State House in support of legislation that would have banned the sale of ivory in my state. On the day of my testimony, I noticed that one of the Senators was knitting during each person’s testimony. It was only when I got up to speak that she put her knitting down to listen intently to what I had to say. It was on that day that I learned the power of my voice. As soon as I understood that I have the power to make a difference, It became my goal to become a changemaker. After my testimony, I wanted to find a way to amplify my voice and the voices of today’s youth to help raise awareness about the plight of our planet’s elephants. I approached a teacher at my school who I knew was a filmmaker and asked him if he would be willing to help me make a documentary about the humanitarian and conservation reasons as to why putting an end to the ivory trade is so important. Thankfully my teacher was excited about the idea and wanted to help. I gathered students who expressed interest in the concept and we created the first documentary “Kids Battle for a World with Elephants”.
Through the use of social media to share our message, we quickly witnessed the ripple effect our voices were creating. In just a matter of days, the movie had been seen and shared around the world, hundreds of thousands of times. I was contacted by teachers all over the world who wanted to show it in their classrooms. It was shared by conservation organizations around the world. It was written about in National Geographic online and other online publications. It eventually brought me to National Geographic, the Department of the Interior, and the United Nations. I was invited to present at the International Conservation Chiefs Academy where I was so fortunate to meet people who came straight from the frontlines where they protect many of the majestic creatures I am fighting for. It was a privilege to be able to speak with leaders of conservation law enforcement agencies and to watch as they bridge partnerships, share ideas and work together to combat illegal wildlife trafficking.
As I learned more and more about the extinction crisis, what started off as a child’s passion for saving elephants became a broader effort to combat the extinction of our world’s most critically endangered species. Since my first documentary, I have created five additional movies, each focusing on a different aspect of conservation. My most recent documentary details the effects of biodiversity loss on our planet’s ecosystems.
Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth and the combination of all life forms and their interactions with each other. As a result of excessive human resource consumption, plants and animals are disappearing today at 1000 times the natural rate. The main threats to our planet’s biodiversity are: human population growth, destruction of habitats, climate change, the spread of invasive species, over-harvesting, overexploitation, and pollution. Human beings are responsible for all of these threats. My newest film, “Protect Nature So That It Can Protect Us” was created in support of the theme of CITES’ World Wildlife Day 2020, which was hosted at the United Nations in New York City. The “Wildlife and Biodiversity” theme aimed to showcase a variety of human actions that are destroying our planet’s biodiversity, by using the voices of the generation whose future will be greatly affected by these actions. Age should not be a barrier to spreading the word about critical issues and the worst thing that we can possibly do for our planet is nothing.
Please visit my Facebook page 'A World with Elephants' to view more of my films, as well as a detailed history of my effort and what you can do to help.
May we never stop asking ourselves, “If not me, then who?”.
By Taegen Yardley