Barbara Knowles is senior science policy adviser at the Society of Biology and compiles its science policy newsletter. She also volunteers for an NGO in Transylvania which focuses on conserving and understanding biodiversity, landscape and high nature value farming.
Scientists working in biodiversity conservation and sustainability science go through stages of despair and recovery while they struggle to see how their work can have a positive impact on the world, according to Professor Joern Fischer in an insightful blog, What’s the point?
I recognize these stages at every phase of my career in research, science communication and science policy, and especially now that I’m also doing voluntary work which specifically aims to protect biodiversity in the face of multiple forces that work against this goal. I’m only one person in 7 billion but I’d still like to change the world, or at least part of it.
We can overcome the disillusionment with science that Professor Fischer describes by learning that even the best science is never enough on its own to solve the problems of conservation or sustainability. Indeed the science is the easy part compared to changing people’s behaviour.
I would encourage every sustainability scientist to try to combine some practical conservation or policy work with their research. It’s often frustratingly slow and difficult to know if you are making progress (just like research), but if we all do something our impact can indeed become significant. Biologists do have an impact, as our campaign Biology: changing the world shows.
One woman with a big impact was Anita Roddick; international businesswoman, human rights activist and environmental campaigner, best known as the founder of The Body Shop. She said “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.”
Image: Panos Photographia