First off, I am sorry for my long absence in posting. Like most field biologists the gear up and kick-off of the 2013 field season demanded most of my attention. And admittedly, the nice weather had me outside playing in streams on my weekends instead of being here to inform you about the cute, weird and interesting bits of marine and freshwater science that I love.
For this first blog back I am not going to write about sea turtles, shark finning, or freshwater mussels (stay tuned for that next week!). Right now, I’d like to ask for your help. I’m discouraged and need a pick me up.
Do Scientists Ever Get Discouraged With Conservation
Maybe you’ve wondered if those of us who are active in conservation ever tire of hearing the news of yet another oil spill; over-population; climate change; famine; de-forestation; shark species at risk of extinction; plastic particles choking our Great Lakes and oceans…rest assured – we do.
Recently, I read Dan Brown’s latest fiction, Inferno, and while I won’t spoil the plot for you, the main issue involves human over-population. Inferno reminded me of a non-fiction book Ten Billion by Stephen Emmott. In it he discusses the implications of over-population and labels it the greatest threat to Earth and humanity. The book, based on a lecture series, paints a pretty bleak future. The Guardian published an exert of Mr. Emmott’s work here. There is some debate regarding the statistics used for the projections, so it might be worth looking into them yourself. But regardless of the details, the overall message of Emmott’s book left me feeling discouraged about my meager efforts to save our aquatic environments.
How can I pat myself on the back for buying Sea Food Watch approved sustainable (MSC labelled) shrimp when the plastic package they arrived in will never really break down and may end up choking marine life or yellow perch in the Great Lakes? Maybe I need to buy a hybrid car, or choose not to have children? Heck, I could live off the grid, right?! Probably not. The drastic changes that are needed by each and every one of us are by their very nature – hard. I want to drive to North Carolina to complete in a triathlon in August. That will consume gas, emit CO2, and will utilize water. Who knows how much water it cost to make my bike, or even my running shoes that I replace annually.
I Don’t Want To Live In Hypocrisy
How can I, a freshwater biologist, encourage my friends, family, coworkers, and you, to practice every feasible act of sustainability to protect our headwaters, streams, lakes and oceans when my daily choices also threaten those things I am trying to protect?
The sad answer is, I don’t know. I can hope our governments will push for tougher legislation that ensures all packaging must contain at least some amount of bio-degradable plastic, eliminate disposable water bottles, only allow fuel efficient cars, etc. I can participate in lobbying our government to do these things and I can keep working and writing blogs that I hope will inspire others to do the same. Our small actions, we’re taught, will amount to global change. Some scientists now say that isn’t true; it’s not enough. I say that small actions will continue be a vital part of the bigger picture. At this point the options to do more are very hard and go against the society we have built, love, and cherish. But, we can do better. We can remember that being discouraged motivates us to re-think what we’re doing and identify where we can improve.
As a fisheries biologist I am often discouraged about how we over-exploit our global fisheries resources. I know I must use my discouragement as motivation to keep working towards sustainable options – or more likely – to keep reaching out to those much more capable than I to take up the cause, because maybe they, or you, have the innovative answers we need!
Believe There Is Hope
Overall, we need faith that our actions will cause and foster change. So, if you are like me and feeling a little low, a bit discouraged even; don’t worry. We’ve all been there. The only thing we can do for sure is refuse to accept that there is no hope, because accepting defeat will ensure we do end up in a world without freshwater, without sharks/rays/tuna, without mussels (plug for next week!), without so many things that I can’t possibly name them all, but basically everything we hold dear. We can be discouraged, but we can’t give up.
So the next time you feel low and discouraged don’t skip over that article about the destructive oil sands or climate change, read on. Read and be motivated.
Let me know in the comments below how pick yourself up on low days. I could use the advice!!!