Less work, more time to be a solutionary: An Interview with Veronika Perková

Veronika Perková is a Czech environmental journalist with bylines in BBC, Mongabay, and Earth Island Journal. She hosts a monthly, solutions-focused podcast, Nature Solutionaries, which tackles conservation and population issues. She is also the author of Ask Great Questions, Get Great Answers; a university lecturer on interviewing; and a wildlife illustrator.

Zoe Weil: You’re a solutions journalist, specifically a nature solutions journalist. Your stories elevate the powerful work being done by environmentally-focused solutionaries around the world. We consider you a humane educator, too. Your stories not only educate, they provide people with role models to emulate, hope for the future, and motivation to become solutionaries themselves. Can you share a few stories about nature solutionaries with our readers?

Veronika: Yes, with pleasure. Off the top of my head comes Hana Raza, an incredible woman of Kurdish origin who protects the Persian leopard. As the only female conservationist in Iraq, a country that has been torn by wars and conflicts, she has had to overcome many barriers in her work and personal life, but she never gives up. 

Another person who comes to my mind is Bill Robichaud from the Saola Foundation who has been relentlessly trying to find and protect the Saola, an animal that no biologist has ever seen in the wild and was last “camera-trapped” in 2013. Despite what looks like a lost fight, he and his team are optimistic that they can save the last 50 Saolas and are preparing one of the biggest searches for an animal in history. 

And then there is the German primatologist Tilo Nadler who, at the age of 80, is trying to extend an existing nature reserve in Vietnam to protect the Delacour’s Langur, whose population quadrupled thanks to his and the community’s work. 

All my interviewees inspire me because these people are fighting for a higher cause, and they are also trying to help the communities surrounding the reserves. They don’t just talk about problems; they try to solve them. They are also selfless. I was so fascinated by the generosity of Stuart Pimm and Luis Mazariegos, who both received a chunk of money for their amazing science and conservation work and put the money into creating nonprofits. 

Zoe: Solutions journalism is growing, but it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to journalism focused on what is going wrong, not right. We humans evolved to pay more attention to dangers than to situations that are positive and healthy, and this now spills over into the media. What do you think it will take to shift our focus further toward solutionary thinking and action?

Veronika: I think that we need to see more role models around us, whether in newspapers, magazines, films, radio shows, podcasts, books, or at schools, universities, and companies. We need to hear more about people who are doing things for others or for nature and, ideally, even meet them in person. For the past seven years that I have been conducting interviews, I have been so lucky to have met, and spread the messages of, such wonderful and inspiring people. But if I was working in a different field, I think I would not be so exposed to these people and might be less inspired to do things like starting a flower bed in front of our apartment building or joining a spring clean-up activity. 

I think it all comes down to what type of people you surround yourself with. If you have a lot of friends who are active citizens, then you are also more prone to becoming an active citizen. I recommend the book Give and Take by Adam Grant for ideas and inspiration.

The media has been feeding people mostly doom and gloom stories. But in today’s age of info-glut, people are getting fed up with such stories, and many are doing a digital detox, unsubscribing from news and newsletters. I totally get that. It is easy to get lost in the media landscape and feel hopeless, especially when you talk about global problems like climate change. That is why we need to talk about solutions and show stories of people who are bringing change. 

I think that things are slowly changing. I have recently come across a list of 54 news outlets with dedicated solutions sections. That is a great sign!  

Zoe: It’s a little intimidating conducting an interview with someone who wrote a book about conducting good interviews, so what is a question you want me to ask you, and how would you answer it?

Veronika: Recently, I have been quite fascinated with the question: why do people work so much and whether it would not be more beneficial for them and for nature to work less. I have recently finished reading a book In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. He argued that working four hours a day would be enough to satisfy our needs and would give us enough space to spend quality time with family, friends, do our hobbies, and be active citizens. I can’t agree more. The problem is that we would earn less money and would not satisfy our desires which are driven by the consumerist society which keeps on telling us: “Don’t be satisfied with who you are and what you have.” 

Just recently, a listener commented on my interview on Overpopulation and Overconsumption writing: “Since my consumption is very low, I simply stopped working and retired early. Now my income is low enough to just meet my needs, and it gives me time to listen to and comment on podcasts.” I loved that! I won’t be able to retire anytime soon, but I just love the idea that you don’t have to spend your life toiling; you can do other things, too. 

If you are interested in this line of thought, you can read Henry D. Thoreau’s books, which promote modesty, minimalism, and lots of free time for self-study, observation of nature, or simply spending time with family and friends. There is also a great book called Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber.