Friday, May 30, 2014

Transforming Nature: A Collaborative Project

This summer a group of faculty and I are collaborating with some students from Science and the Humanities and Fine Arts to explore ways to communicate science to a broader audience, especially people who haven’t traditionally thought that science could float their boats.  Science can help solve many of the environmental problems facing society today, but science alone will not pave the way to swift resolutions, because public perception has a large impact on the likelihood of political and societal action. Interactions between scientists, artists, writers, and education have the potential to synergistically ignite and advance conservation issues. We are seeking synergism.  We are looking for the ignition.

Our focus this summer is land-use impacts in the watershed with groups focusing specifically on “The Watershed,” “Pesticide Impacts on Biodiversity,” and “Crop Diversity.” We are learning some skills from each other—photography, art, videography, design, and science—and exploring the ways we humans transform nature and can be inspired by these changes to communicate a message that is grounded in science. Nature has been transforming since the pieces of the planet came together to form this Earth, so transformation is natural.  And from the evolution of nature arose humans, who have been shaped by the forces of nature and who shaped the environment and biota around them.  Today we are living in a world transformed by humans for our shelter, our food, and the business of our lives.  We can transform our environment in ways that have positive or negative consequences for the species we share the planet with, and our hope is that projects like ours can remind ourselves and our fellow hominids that, in the words of Mary Oliver, “the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-- / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.”

Although scientists do not lack inspiration or charisma (um, more or less), we need help in sharing the take home messages from the sciences, especially in the field of conservation biology where human impacts are putting the genetic and species diversity of life on earth at the precipice.  Life will go on and recover from humans, but it would be nice if we could rediscover our place inside of nature before the rest of biodiversity pays the price for the human disconnection (even if this is only a mental disconnection) from the rest of creation. Here’s to hope and the students that are creating the path forward.