Count only the sunny days

Larry A. Nielson encouraged everyone to be optimistic when dealing with environmental issues

Optimism is key for Larry A. Nielson

Author Larry A. Nielson, a professor emeritus from North Carolina State University, came to North Dakota State University on Oct. 16 to give a scholarly presentation titled “Lessons from the Great Conservationists of the Past”.

The presentation was made up of both history and environmentalism. It focused on three figures in the history of conservation; Chico Mendes, Billy Frank Jr. and Wangari Maathai.

Nielson began by saying, “You need to know one thing about me, but only one thing, and that is that I am an optimist.”

He then proved his optimism by claiming that he is a Chicago Cubs fan. A team that was on a losing streak for over a century until their win in 2016.

Nielson’s key point was that: “It does prove that being an optimist is a good idea. Because if you wait long enough you will find that eventually, you win the championship again.”

It’s not just sports that Nielson is optimistic about, he is also quite optimistic about the condition of the world. “I believe that the world is a better place today than it was yesterday and it will be a better place tomorrow than it is today.”

Nielson continued by stating how a lot of those who work in environmentalism can have a pessimistic view of the world due to their perspective. Nielson says they look at it through a “shorter lens” than what they should. 

Nielson believes that the pessimistic short lens perspective is: “Not the right one.” He remembers reading National Geographic as a kid in 1955 when there were articles that said things like: ‘coral reefs are dying and aren’t gonna be around’ and yet they are still here.

“There’s some ups and downs in the progress, but the progress is real,” Nielson said. “One hundred years ago we didn’t know what endangered species were. Heck, 50 years ago we didn’t know what endangered species were. Now we do and we pay attention and are working on it.”

But the part of the progress that Nielson deemed most important is that we are talking about it citing Greta Thunberg as an example.

Over the years, Nielson realized that the students he taught seeked a well-suited start in their professions and needed something to increase their scope of how far we’ve come. So Nielson wrote a book called Nature’s Allies to teach students about the giants that have come before them.

While conducting research for his book, Nielson said he was: “Looking for what they had in common. Were they all scientists? Were they all from the upper class? Were they all well educated? And the answer is no, there is nothing really in common with these folks of that nature.”

However, Nielson came across three things that he thinks defines the character of them and the many people trying to make a difference. They have passion, persistence and partnerships.

For the remainder of the lecture, Nielson told the stories of Chico Mendes, Billy Frank Jr. and Wangari Maathai. All of which were heroic, riveting, tragic and hopeful as Nielson described.

Nielson stated an old Italian proverb commonly quoted by the Philosopher Voltaire, “Perfect is the enemy of the good.”

The key message behind the presentation was that progress is something that is “in progress”.

When Nielson was asked if he had anything to say to aspiring conservationists at NDSU, he said, “Anybody can do it.” While there is a lot of doom and gloom in recent news about the state of the world’s environment, it is important to remain optimistic.

“You need to know one thing about me, but only one thing, and that is that I am an optimist.”

Larry A. Neilson

At the very end, Nielson closed with: “Remember these eight people and many others used passion, persistence and partnerships to accomplish things that are truly extraordinary and we can all do that.”

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the next time someone wrote a book like this, they didn’t write it about eight people, but they wrote it about nine, and the ninth one was you.”

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