Staking a claim

In April 2014 on April 11, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Scientists can be brushed aside as just another cultural group staking a claim on our resources.

It’s a concept which occurred to me whilst reading Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver.

The young bored mother Dellarobia Turnbow feels anger and resentment when a group of scientists arrive to study an unusual (and climate change-driven) aggregation of monarch butterflies she discovered in the hills above her house.

“Why did the one rare, spectacular thing in her life have to be a sickness of nature? These butterflies had been hers. She’d found them, she’d showed them to her son, in her name they were becoming beloved and important. They seemed to matter, like nothing else she’d ever possessed.

So how did an outsider just get to come in here and declare the whole event a giant mistake? These people had everything. Education, good looks, boots whose price tags equaled her husband’s last paycheck. Now the butterflies were theirs too.”

This kind of emotion arises when natural resources hold value for multiple stakeholders in the real word too. Governments, industries, farmers, mining consortiums, food producers and recreational groups fight with scientists to stake claims on forests, oceans, reefs, inland waterways and fertile land. Often, the guys with the biggest budgets and loudest voices win these battles.

Quite simply, scientists need to be more effective in running campaigns to explain, justify and garner support for their claims and thus compete on a level playing field with their opponents on the ‘other’ sides.

One step towards achieving this end is for scientists to get out into the community and listen to the experiences and views of the people they feel they are fighting against. To know your enemy, you must become your enemy, right?

Will Grant and colleagues at the Australian National University recently conducted a dialogue project, bringing Australia’s leading climate change scientists to round table discussions with local people across regional Australia. Called Up Stream, the story of the project has been documented in a series of four 7-8 minute video clips:

Ultimately, it’s only with the help of unique and multi-faceted projects like this that science even stands a chance.

[image thanks to John Haslam on flickr]

  1. For scientists to become real people in the community; mothers, fathers, carers, soccer coaches, and volunteers……that is the challenge for many. Not ‘stick to your own kind’ people. Just real people, out there and vulnerable like everyone else. Like Ovid Byron did for Dellarobia in the book. I”ll watch those videos! Thanks for the links!

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