ECOLOGY BOOK CLUB RAISES TOUGH QUESTIONS

by Whit Gibbons

November 12, 2017

Book club interests can range from humorous books to dystopian fiction, from best-sellers to obscure curiosities. I recently heard from an ecology book club that reads older environmental classics as well as those written by contemporary authors. They asked two questions that are well worth considering.

Q: Do you think people are more in tune with and receptive to conservation issues today than a few years ago?

A: People today are unquestionably more cognizant of general environmental issues than they were a generation or two ago. A larger proportion of the population seems more appreciative of wildlife and their habitats than in earlier times. People are more knowledgeable about natural history and more interested in environmental issues. The proliferation of field identification guides in virtually all taxonomic categories is an indicator of that interest. In addition to traditional green societies and eco-minded academicians, ordinary people now grasp the importance of natural habitats and non-game wildlife, and they support safeguarding them.

Some of my recent experiences with outdoor enthusiasts have been with folks whose interests spanned a broad diversity of organisms, including dragonflies and damselflies, butterflies, ferns, bats, flowering fall plants, fishes, mushrooms and salamanders. Of course, bird watchers are always easy to come by. The passion evident in the participants on field trips to observe their favorite organisms is encouraging. Natural habitats essential to these plants and animals would not fare well with many commercial development models. People appreciative of wildlife in a broad sense are likely to be supportive of appropriate conservation efforts to maintain habitats in a natural state.

I do have concerns about an inclination in some government circles to roll back environmental protections, even to the extreme of decreasing the acreage of national monuments and parks, with little apparent regard for the inexorable loss of natural habitats. An equal lack of concern for maintaining clean air and water regulations is especially disquieting. Protecting native wildlife will remain a continuing battle as long as some policymakers are more focused on exploitation of natural resources than enjoyment of them. But overall, I am optimistic that those who appreciate nature will prevail – or at least keep on fighting.

Q: What is your best advice/strategy for dealing with what some perceive as an antiscience bias in certain political arenas and the public in general?

A: The antiscience problem has many roots, a long history and no easy solution. Chipping away at attitudes antagonistic toward ecological science is one way to address the problem. And we can take solace from instances when science prevailed. Most people now accept that the earth is neither flat nor the centerpiece of a revolving universe. So progress has been made.

Environmental education, especially for young people, is also important for combating antiscience stances. I am convinced that many if not most children who have positive experiences in the natural world carry those attitudes forward into adulthood. Even some adults who did not have positive experiences growing up learn to enjoy and appreciate being outdoors. Unfortunately, a few are hopeless either because they do not want to understand the problem or because they are easily swayed by others who have self-serving agendas.

A major concern is people with political, commercial or religious agendas who benefit, monetarily or otherwise, by disavowing scientific findings that conflict with their way of doing things. That battle will not be easily won, but giving up is not in our best interest. An effective place to address the problem is in the voting booth. Choose candidates who support scientific research, environmental regulation and protection for natural habitats.

An ecology book club is a great way to stimulate discussions leading to thoughtful questions about scientific research, complex ecological issues and what direction our country is headed environmentally. Challenging certain trends in environmental attitudes and politics is a reasonable first step toward addressing and perhaps solving what could otherwise become serious problems for future generations.

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