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Environmentalists vs. Environmental Scientists February 3, 2009

Posted by Eban in Science & society.

Tony, this post goes out to you my friend. Take no offense to it, as I’m always down with listening to the insightful things you say in class, you’re a smart guy. I’ve just gotta say something about the “environmentalist” comment made during our discussion last thursday.

Environmentalists are activists and extremists trying to achieve the common goal of spreading the word about conservation and general improvement of the environment. While I do not doubt their intentions, they are far from being scientists. Often statistics are taken, many times from unreliable sources (but who could blame them, they aren’t scientists how could they know whats reliable and whats not) and fudged to scare people into believing that the world will end tomorrow if they don’t start recycling or something crazy like that. They often employ the use of “charismatic mega-fauna”, or cute fluffy animals, to gain the hearts of potential supporters. While using bogus statistics and adorable animals can help gain support for the cause, many smart people (like you Tony) see right through the lies. These people become very skeptical of environmentalists, which, in many cases, turns into skepticism for environmental science.

So while my colleagues and I are out collecting real data and attempting to find out the truth, we are faced with an almost impossibly high hurdle to jump before we can even tell anyone what we’re finding from our studies. We have to overcome the mass amounts of skeptics out there, but who could blame anyone for being skeptical when environmentalists are running around stuffing false numbers and pandas down their throats.

All I’m saying Tony, classmates, fellow human beings, is that there is a huge difference between environmentalists and environmental scientists, and the word “environmentalist” has no place in a science class, or debate, or anywhere, don’t even think about them…unless we’re totally makin’ fun of ’em, then its cool.

If thats not convincing then maybe telling you that many PETA members are environmentalists will do the trick…crazies…At least now you can see why I, as an environmental scientist, I cannot allow it to be confused with environmentalism.



1. ebrister - February 3, 2009

But isn’t the overlap telling? I know a lot of environmental scientists and most-no, actually-ALL of them (except maybe you, Eban, though I have my doubts there) are environmentalists. I also know a lot of environmentalists, and quite some number of them have scientific credentials–they’re foresters and science teachers and chemists.

One COULD be an environmental scientist and not care one way or the other about environmental issues. (This is the same phenomenon that guarantees that ethicists are not necessarily ethical.) But I think that what draws people to environmental science is recognition of the importance of environmental problems. Not to mention that as a discipline it seems value-laden in the same way that medicine is value-laden. Conservation biologists, for instance, can’t be neutral regarding the value of conservation.

Still, your point is well taken that there is a lot of diversity among environmentalists, and that environmentalists are not ipso facto scientific or respectful of science.

2. Greg - February 3, 2009

Some environmentalists use unsound arguments to advance their policy agenda. Therefore, all environmentalists are crazy.

3. Eban - February 3, 2009

I only called PETA members crazy. All I was saying about environmentalists is that they are not scientists, I never called them all crazy. I’m down with the environmentalist movement, just not so much with some of the methodology used to support it. I would also say that I am an environmentalist in the sense that I completely support the movement, but I will continue to support it with contributions of science rather than emotion evoking pictures of pandas cuddling with polar bears. Don’t take my post as an attack on environmentalists, I’m sorry if it seemed hostile. The point was only to distinguish the supporters from the scientists, and I’m sorry if it came across another way.

4. atperrone - February 5, 2009

Having recently been bombarded with PETA propaganda (for unrelated reasons) as well as, coincidentally, having only recently heard the phrase “charismatic mega-fauna” for the first time, I have to say that all this struck a note with me. It’s important to draw a clear distinction between sign-toting, dreadlock-sporting, patchouli reeking hippies and the educated folk running more-or-less-accurate climate models.

Having said that though (and likely irritating more people in the process), I have to say that I don’t even recall what it is I said last week to spark this little good natured tirade. Care to fill me in?

5. Eban - February 5, 2009

I don’t entirely remember what happened either (I had a 101 degree fever during that particular class session). All that I can recall is that we were talking about something…and then you said something to the effect of “kinda like how all environmentalists only care about the cute fluffy animals.” This sparked my attention as we were in a Philosophy of Science class and I made the comment ” environmentalists are not scienctists.” Everyone proceeded to look at me with the same intensity as if I had just kicked a puppy across the room. I believe I actually apologized and people laughed and then it was over…

My blog post was mostly a direct result of the fact that no discussion at all was sparked by the brief exchange we had Tony. Either I blew everyone’s mind to the point where everyone became physically unable to speak, or no one really cared. I, however, do care, and all I really wanted to do was make sure there was some sort of distinction between science and…well…not science.

You were correct, in a way, in your statement that all environmentalists care about is the cute fluffy animals, as they portray themselves in such a manner. I just wanted to make sure that everyone knew that environmentalists, especially the ones that only care about adorable animals, are not scientists.

I hope that cleared things up for you good sir.

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