TO GO OFF ON AN ECORANT
by Whit Gibbons
March 25, 2002
u think its ok to wear fur not animals (LOL) BTW, I have a fur
should Iware it. Need 2 know asap its cold hear." This
was the text of an email I received recently. The signature
was a colon/dash/parenthesis that made a frowny face. Since
we presumably will be hearing less on Monday Night Football
from Dennis Miller, world's champion of "going off on a
rant," I think I will do a little ranting of my own.
The field of ecology is often associated with the passions of
environmentalism; options are nearly endless for expressing
annoyance, giving an opinion, or just plain ecoranting and raving.
Consider the issue of drilling for oil in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge, which has been proposed by a conservative government
whose energy policy does not start with being more conservative
but, instead, starts by trying to use more energy than we have.
Or I could speak my mind about our having no overriding public
policies to stop rampant development that abandons one paved
over area to make another, with the resultant loss of our forests
and the dubious gain of strip malls.
Possibilities for expressing environmental opinions abound.
For example, how did we end up with a Supreme Court that would
rule in 2001 that small wetlands are not protected under the
Clean Water Act, thus leading to the rampant destruction of
environmentally vital wetlands across the continent?
Anyone can take a stand on environmental topics, and many people
do. Some weigh the pros and cons of an issue before deciding
what position to support; others simply choose a position and
then defend it against all odds. Some people want answers to
environmental questions; some merely want to express their opinions.
Which brings me to the issue at hand, an issue I have not seen
addressed elsewhere. The coin of the realm in communication
among individuals has become email. I think it's time for schools
(and parents) to begin teaching email etiquette. Such etiquette
includes identifying yourself to the recipient and expressing
your questions or comments politely. In particular, we should
teach people how to send proper emails when asking for information.
I now begin my rant.
I receive and answer a steady stream of messages arriving at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Sometimes I am not able to check this email
account every day, but I eventually try to respond to all queries.
Of course, if your question is like one I received last fall
"What should I do about the copperhead coiled up on my
front porch? Should I let the dog and children play in the yard?"
my answer may be too late to help you. Sorry. But the timeliness
of my responses isn't the issue. The issue is the basic elements
of any email: who are you, where are you from, and will you
be taking a course in grammar and spelling some day?
Given the choice, I like to be responsive to the people who
write me. But how much time should I invest in an email that
says, in its entirety, "I would like to know how to raise
catfish. Please respond as soon as possible." I did send
the anonymous writer from an anonymous place the URL for a Web
site on catfish. Should I have done even that?
Another one that is more frequent than I care to remember runs
something like this: "I am doing a report for class and
would like for you to send everything you can about ecology
and the environment. My report is due tomorrow." These
are the kinds of emails I like to get a day late.
How should I respond to "I saw a black snake crossing the
street. What is it?" No herpetologist could give a definitive
answer without knowing at the very least where you are from.
The list of problematic emails I've received could go on and
on. But it's time to bring this rant to a close and offer some
simple guidelines for composing an email in which you are asking
someone for information or advice.
1. Give your name and, if appropriate, your affiliation with
a school or organization.
2. Indicate where you are writing from. Remember that with email
no one can even tell on what continent you live, an important
clue for identifying some plants and animals. If you are requesting
information about a topic for an academic project, identify
the course you are taking and where you go to school.
3. Plan for the possibility that you may have to wait a few
days for a response.
4. Please take time to proofread your message, if u R sending
it 2 me.
you have an environmental question or comment, email