Robbie Bonds: 2021 Murie Spirit of Conservation Rising Leader

At 9 years old, Robbie heard about the prospect of closing or limiting access to our national parks, and wanted to be sure his and other kids' concerns were heard. He started speaking out, and subsequently founded the organization Kids Speak for Parks, which has been a fantastic vehicle for his message since 2017.

Robbie Bond's work to speak out on behalf of national parks caught the eye of Rose Marcario, former CEO of Patagonia. Rose was recently nominated as the recipient of the 2021 Murie Spirit of Conservation Awards, an annual tradition at Teton Science Schools in Jackson, WY. The award is named for early conservation activist Mardy Murie, whose efforts contributed to the signing of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Rose has been a staunch advocate for the business sector to be a solution, rather than a problem, for our worlds' conservation needs. The awardee has the honor of naming a rising leader in the conservation movement, and Rose named Robbie as the 2021 Murie Spirit of Conservation Rising Leader.

The Murie Spirit of Conservation Rising Leader Award is among a growing list of accolades and honors the young advocate holds, making him an inspiration to young people of all ages to take meaningful action to address the worsening climate change crisis. He's such an inspiration he's even been part of the Disney+ show Marvel’s Hero Project, through which inspiring kids are highlighted as heroes who try to make change in their communities and empower other children.

Bond will receive his award in a virtual event on September 9 in Grand Teton National Park. Marcario will also be honored at the same event, with the school's Spirit of Conservation Award.

Follow Robbie on Instagramor FaceBook to keep up with his incredible journey.

Thank you for your time, Robbie!

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Emy diGrappa (00:00):

Hello, my name is Emy diGrappa. Each week we bring you stories, asking our guests the question why. We learn about passion, purpose, and the human experience brought to you by Wyoming Humanities with the generous support of the Wyoming Community Foundation. This is what's your why?

(00:38):

Today we are talking to Robbie Bonds. He recently received the Murie Spirit of Conservation Rising Leader Award. Robbie is 13 and in his quest for preserving our national parks and natural wonders, he started a website called Kids Speak for Parks. Welcome Robbie.

Robbie Bonds (00:58):

Hello Emy. This is a great experience being able to be on the podcast. Thank you for the incredible introduction and I'm excited to get going.

Emy diGrappa (01:05):

Yeah. No worries. So I just want to know just at the beginning, because you started a website and I noticed you have a Facebook following and lots of social media going on. How did you start your journey to become a conservationist?

Robbie Bonds (01:22):

Okay. As for how I started my journey to become a conservationist is I started Kids Speak for Parks in April of 2017,.but before that I was actually participating in beach cleanups and other conservation efforts in Hawaii because my granddad inspired me to become a conservationist because he ran the Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve in Hawaii. Which really instilled a feeling of environmental importance in me. So I've been in the conservation area for as long as I can remember pretty much.

(01:52):

But as for how I got started is I started by touring America's national parks and monuments and that was so much fun. It really got me inspired to help preserve these beautiful places. And I started by speaking to schools, starting my website, working on making educational videos about the national parks and why we need to protect them. And just being active on social media and collaborating with other creators and non-profit organizations that were willing to help me.

Emy diGrappa (02:19):

How many parks have you visited so far?

Robbie Bonds (02:22):

So far with kids Speak for Parks, I visited 50 national parks and monuments.

Emy diGrappa (02:26):

And what does the word conservation mean to you? What does it mean to be a conservationist? What is it that you actually do?

Robbie Bonds (02:34):

Being a conservationist to me means preserving these beautiful places for future generations to enjoy. And working to protect these places while encouraging other people to stand up in the same way that I'm doing that. So I feel like conserving these places for the next generation and teaching kids about why they need to protect it so when they grow up they can be conservationists, is really important.

Emy diGrappa (02:59):

So that brings me to another question because conservation means a lot of things. And it's different things to different people. And that's why when I ask you what does it mean to you, your focus is on national parks and natural wonders. Correct?

Robbie Bonds (03:15):

Right. That's my focus.

Emy diGrappa (03:17):

And so what do you tell kids? Why is that important? What does it do for us?

Robbie Bonds (03:24):

I think it's important for kids to work in this conservation field because we're going to be around to inherit these places. So we want to preserve them as best as we can so that we can enjoy them, is why I feel like kids should be in this conservation field.

Emy diGrappa (03:40):

And what are you learning about the conservation movement? I mean, not just as a young person, but just what's in the news and politically. What are you learning that you think is impactful?

Robbie Bonds (03:51):

I'm learning that the environmentalism conservation movement is strangely political or I guess partisan. Where some people don't really agree with it, when I feel like it should be a bipartisan thing that everyone agrees on, that our environment needs to be preserved. So I learned that sometimes it takes convincing to try and educate people, which I think people should do. People shouldn't just give up and not try and talk about their opinions just because the other person doesn't agree with them.

Emy diGrappa (04:20):

So when you say it's surprisingly political, what do you think are the biggest issues right now that we are facing in our quest for conserving our planet?

Robbie Bonds (04:33):

I think of course if this counts, the biggest issue is of course climate change. Climate change is responsible for a bunch of horrible things that are happening to our environment. But the other issue I feel like, is people being unwilling to stand up for themselves and preserve their own future because we're going to be here when these places get destroyed as kids. So I feel like some kids have that mindset that they can't make a difference in this and that they don't really need to, which I don't think is true.

Emy diGrappa (05:03):

So just on a day to day basis, what do you do to say conserve water?

Robbie Bonds (05:11):

Well, I'm pretty mindful of what I'm trying to do, so I'm trying to preserve our environment. So I think about that in my day to day life. And that just kind of encourages me to do things like use a reusable water bottle when I go to school, not take long baths and things like that. And just be mindful of my impact or my footprint on the environment. So just constantly thinking about that is what sort of motivates me to conserve water and things like that.

Emy diGrappa (05:40):

And do you have recycling at your home?

Robbie Bonds (05:43):

Yeah. We do. We have recycling at our home.

Emy diGrappa (05:46):

Do you have it at school?

Robbie Bonds (05:48):

We do have it at school, but it doesn't get used as much as I would prefer. And a lot of the stuff in our cafeteria is single used plastic, which I don't use the cafeteria food because I don't want to pollute. And I want to bring in my own food. Unfortunately I wish it wasn't like that.

Emy diGrappa (06:04):

So what's the trickle down? You talk about conserving national parks and natural wonders, but that conversation is so much bigger than that because you have to start at the very smallest of things, which is water, recycling. Just things you do every day. How do you talk to kids about things they do every day that they can change in their habits?

Robbie Bonds (06:35):

Well I speak to schools located near the national parks that I visit. And I've also worked on policy change, working on getting plastic straws out of the school places. I've done that. I've worked on allowing kids to get into our national parks so they can enjoy it. I've been trying to work on things on a larger scale then just talking to kids so I can have a bigger impact. So I feel like just having a widespread message is the best instead of just talking to individual kids. That's how I let them know about this.

Emy diGrappa (07:08):

Okay. So you think having a bigger message on Facebook or Instagram or on your website is a better way to reach kids? Well what if you're talking to a kid who lives in the inner city and is living in a lot of cement, for example. They don't have the luxury of living near a national park. How do you talk to that kid?

Robbie Bonds (07:34):

I've been working on virtual reality immersive field trips into our national parks just so that kids in that cement jungle, in inner cities, or kids who aren't fortunate enough to be able to go to national parks because I realize that national parks are unfortunately a privilege. So I've been working on those virtual reality videos to take the national parks into schools instead of having to have kids come into national parks physically. That is designed to have kids realize or think about the small actions that they do and how that impacts the bigger picture. How that impacts the world as a whole. So I've been working on speaking to schools, independently online as well.

Emy diGrappa (08:19):

Oh, okay. So you can speak to schools online that are in the inner city. You can talk to kids in the inner city. Does it work to speak to kids your age or younger kids?

Robbie Bonds (08:33):

I prefer to speak to kids my age or younger so they can relate to me more. But I've spoken to all grade levels and a bunch of different ages. I've spoken to adults multiple times and that's been a good time. But I prefer to speak to kids my age because I feel like they can relate to me more.

Emy diGrappa (08:49):

What have you learned about changing behavior? have you studied about changing behavior and how people change behaviors? How they go from throwing trash out their window to thinking, it doesn't matter, who cares?

Robbie Bonds (09:09):

Well, it's actually pretty cool. I haven't had the opportunity to talk about this to someone. But I took a psychology class at my local university and that was really mind opening for me because it showed what people need to change their opinions. And what I'm trying to do is provide incentive for people to do this. Because a lot of people don't realize what the small actions, like you said, throwing trash out the window or littering or things like that. What that does on a bigger scale. So I'm trying to put this into perspective for kids to realize that they can make a difference and their difference can be good or bad. So try to realize the impacts of their actions is what I'm trying to do.

Emy diGrappa (09:52):

Well I think that is truly a good start. I think one of the challenges we have as a world, not just this country but probably in other countries more than this country, is just our battle with using plastic. What do you think about that?

Robbie Bonds (10:13):

I think it's horrible that we're so reliant on plastic. Plastic is the biggest polluter, it's clogging up our oceans. And having lived in Hawaii, plastic is a huge problem, especially since Hawaii relies on tourism. Plastic pollution is a really big problem in Hawaii and that's why I work on beach cleanups and things like that. Can you repeat the rest of the question so I can remember it?

Emy diGrappa (10:36):

Well, just how are we going to address the whole plastic problem? Because it's not just ingrained in this country. It's everywhere, it's convenient. It's kind of like if you ask somebody to stop using their microwave, for example, we're so used to using it. It's a convenience. How are we going to address that?

Robbie Bonds (11:03):

And since it's such a convenience, I don't really think that as a whole I can cause people to stop using plastics. But I feel like the best opportunity to have people, I guess realize that plastic pollution is a problem, is with policy change. If people aren't going to naturally stop using plastics outside of convenient things like using reusable water bottles, I feel like the best choice is to change the policies, that people can't use plastic anymore. But of course that requires convincing government bodies to realize the problems of toxic pollution.

Emy diGrappa (11:43):

So I think that's interesting because it kind of tells me a little bit about your future. So you are going to be a policy maker?

Robbie Bonds (11:54):

Yeah. I hope I will be a policy maker. I still have a lot of work ahead of me with Kids Speak for Parks and with high school and my life in general. But I do hope to be a policy maker because I think that has the biggest impact on the things that I'm trying to do.

Emy diGrappa (12:09):

Well Robbie, it sounds like you're a busy guy. What do you do for fun?

Robbie Bonds (12:13):

I am a pretty busy guy between work with high school and Kids Speak for Parks, I don't have much free time, but I really enjoy reading. I play sports. I play with my friends. I enjoy golf a lot. I think it's a lot of fun. So far with school I enjoy math and this a class called Cultural Anthropology, which is a study of human cultures, which I like a lot. It's also beneficial to my work with Kids Speak for Parks, to learn about that. As for other stuff I do for fun is I watch movies with my parents. Sometimes I play video games either by myself or with my friend. But I try and still have balance between fun and I guess you would call it work.

Emy diGrappa (12:54):

Yeah. Does your mom just say stop? Does she say okay now, you just need to relax?

Robbie Bonds (13:01):

Yeah. My mom, it's kind of a joke, but she asks me to stop reading sometimes because I get so busy and engrossed in my work that I just don't want to stop. I want to keep going and I'll stay up super late, but my mom has to come into my room and go, stop reading Robbie. It's so funny.

Emy diGrappa (13:17):

So what is your family life like? What do your mom and dad do and how many siblings do you have?

Robbie Bonds (13:23):

Oh, my family life is great. My parents have always been really supportive of my work with Kids Speak for Parks. We just got a dog. I have no siblings, but I treat my dog as a sibling because she's so sweet. This is my first dog I've had and it's a great experience. My mom works in pharmaceuticals and managing doctor's offices, and my dad works as a handyman. He does independent, I guess you could call it, busy work around repairing people's houses and stuff.

Emy diGrappa (13:54):

Yeah. He's like an independent contractor.

Robbie Bonds (13:56):

Yeah. Independent contractor. That's what it's called.

Emy diGrappa (13:58):

So that's a good place for you to start work because your mom works for doctor's offices, who use a tremendous amount of plastic, just FYI.

Robbie Bonds (14:11):

Unfortunately, I feel like there's some instances where that's kind of essential because plastic is sterile, there's a lot of uses for it. But I feel like it's in balance that you have to use plastic.

Emy diGrappa (14:22):

Well that's the problem, is that everybody has a different definition of balance.

Robbie Bonds (14:30):

I agree.

Emy diGrappa (14:31):

You would have to define that balance for people and that's not easy to do. And so I think just with doctors, every time they see a patient, they put on pair of plastic gloves and they throw those away. And then the next patient, they put on another pair of plastic gloves and they have to throw those away. So is there really a solution to plastic?

Robbie Bonds (14:59):

I think there is. I'm not too knowledgeable in that type of stuff that you're talking about, but I think that there is a solution for plastic. I just think that we either haven't found it yet or it hasn't become convenient enough for people to want to switch to it. Which I think is the biggest problem with plastic, is that it's easy, it's really convenient to use so people aren't encouraged to switch from it.

Emy diGrappa (15:19):

Right. And there are cities around the US that have a no plastic bag policy. So if you walk into a store, you have to have your own bag or you have to pay for a bag, but there are no plastic bags. I think that's a good starting point, don't you?

Robbie Bonds (15:35):

Right. I agree. That's what I was talking about with having to change policies to really make an impact on this plastic pollution problem. I think that that's a great start in banning things one at a time and that type of stuff. It's really good because I feel like it changes people's mindset on the impacts of banning plastic because it's really not that inconvenient to have to use paper bags or reusable bag or reusable utensils or things like that. I feel like starting small and then ending spectacularly would be good.

Emy diGrappa (16:07):

Well we do live in a world of convenience. That's why we love our computers and our cell phones and our cars and all the things that we have. So it is hard to change people's habits. And even if you want to change a habit, it becomes an obstacle.

Robbie Bonds (16:31):

Right. I think so. It becomes difficult.

Emy diGrappa (16:36):

Yeah. It becomes very difficult because it's all around you.

Robbie Bonds (16:42):

I've especially noticed that at my school. It seems like everyone sort of agrees upon that this is standard, that this has to be the way it is regarding plastic and other problems like that in my school. But I don't think that's the case. But it's hard to convince people of that.

Emy diGrappa (16:57):

And I think that would be a really cool thing for you to start is just at your school level, to promote non-plastic and just find a way for people to not use plastic. And to have maybe signs all over the school to say, here's an alternative and here's how you're saving the planet. I mean, just knowing how you save the planet by not using plastic. I think that changes people when they see animals dying or how it's evading our beaches, for example. And just the trash on the beach is incredible. And I don't know, I feel you have to start someplace.

Robbie Bonds (17:47):

Right. I think that you have to start small because people aren't willing to make drastic change immediately. So yeah, I completely agree with what you're saying.

Emy diGrappa (17:59):

Well I would love to see you on your website and your Facebook have one thing people can do different today.

Robbie Bonds (18:12):

That's a good idea. I really haven't gotten that involved with my social media. I've mainly only done that with schools and talking at conventions and things like that. But I should make it available on my social media. You're definitely right.

Emy diGrappa (18:27):

Well I think you're the perfect person to do that because you could make a handout at every talk you do. Or something that people can download on your website that just says five things that you can do today to save the environment.

Robbie Bonds (18:48):

Yeah. I think that'd be good at my school having a flyer or something like that.

Emy diGrappa (18:53):

And I think that people really like that because they don't know where to start. And maybe they come from a family that doesn't have any of those values, but maybe they care, but they don't know how to care.

Robbie Bonds (19:09):

Yeah. That makes sense. I feel like people, even if they do appreciate the parks, they might not know how to express that, which is what you said. So that makes sense.

Emy diGrappa (19:19):

And the parks is like the gym. Right? It's the gym. I mean, we have to do all the other things that conserve the park. It's not just conserving the park, it's what leads up to that value of having a national park.

Robbie Bonds (19:41):

But I feel like the park is something for you to appreciate, which will get you interested in that type of stuff. The thing that actually goes into protecting the park. So preserving the parks is important because I feel like the parks are what really gets people involved in this. But of course, it's like a circle. Preserving the parks comes from all the other stuff. So I get what you're saying.

Emy diGrappa (20:06):

Yeah. I think it is a circle. You're right, it's a circle. It's one thing leads to another and it just goes round and round. And I really love that you have taken this on and I hope you keep in touch with me and good work. And thank you for talking to me today.

Robbie Bonds (20:28):

Thank you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to your podcast. This has been a great experience for me. I'm always willing to spread the message of my work with Kids Speak for Parks. And thank you to everyone who's watching this.

Emy diGrappa (20:54):

Thank you for joining us for this episode of What's Your Why brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, with support from Wyoming Community Foundation and generous supporters like you. To learn more, go to thinkwhy.org, subscribe and never miss a show.