Do biologists, climate scientists, and general nature enthusiasts have their hearts broken by their own work? Or are they professional and stoic while the world keeps spinning?
It would seem that things are literally always greener on this side. But biology, the study of life, is very broad. Let’s remember that biologists study cells, humans, plants, illnesses, wine grapes, and deep sea creatures.
I have to wonder and daringly predict that anyone who is serious in the environmental field must sometimes have trouble falling asleep at night because of their work, thinking about the bigger picture of issues, such as our climate and biodiversity crises, which are fundamental to our human well-being. As a species, we just continue to self-sabotage.
And damn, that’s got to be hard to watch.
Many areas of our workforce see employees take their work life back into their home. Sometimes for better, and sometimes like the monkey on your back. It could be a sour relationship with a coworker, a claustrophobic work culture, or maybe it’s all positive – and yet we still can’t seem to get our minds off work.
I certainly feel my work being more than that when cruising around Niagara-on-the-Lake.
I have painful and also beautiful imaginations of a St. Davids bench provincial park, with dozens of streams cascading down the Niagara Escarpment’s slopes into the valley below. It would have been a geographically complex ecosystem with plenty of micro-habitats and micro-climates tucked into the valleys. Several species of fish would have spawned in these streams and swam all the way up from Lake Ontario. Deafening tree frog calls would have been heard all along Line 9 below, amid rare tree species such as pawpaw and pin oak.
Anyone from outside of town must be baffled, driving up or down through St. Davids and seeing the sign pronouncing the entrance to a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Although this is definitely a title worth praising in town, the urban sprawl in St. Davids over the past decade has smothered any clue that the area’s natural heritage was seriously protected. I see this and my resounding thought is “what a quiet shame,” that we missed an opportunity to more boldly protect these areas, their soils and the water services they provide for us.
Be it St. Davids or the entire world, there is no pointing the finger at who, or which generation, has caused the very environmental concerns we’re battling. Scientists may have their facts and personal opinions, but they don’t do too much actual finger-pointing, as that’s usually not their job.
Every generation has a job, though. Workers and adults should lead by example, and youth are to follow, but stir the pot in healthy amounts along the way. What if the next generation doesn’t get to experience what the prior did in terms of our natural wonders? Is this even a resonating priority with our society?
What if Niagara Falls was designated as a national park from the get-go, and never industrialized or commercialized? Imagine having to walk through humongous red oak trees and over boardwalks to have to get to see the Falls, with a gorge arguably the most biodiverse locale in all of Canada. It’s a geeky, recurring dream of mine.
What if NOTL still had a connected “ring of green” habitat surrounding its urban boundary, which it had up until about two years ago? I know issues like that have infuriated experts in the environmental field, but these people also must walk the line of being professional and not emotional.
Sometimes I look at the damage to the various wetlands and forest fragments along Line 9, as I have been able to scrutinize this area more than anywhere else while growing up here. It used to have a bit of a “wild” feel to it, that stretch between St. Davids and Queenston, along the base of the Escarpment, but a lot of those natural features have been thinned out, had houses plugged inside them, and I can tell you a lot of the usual animal residents aren’t so usual anymore.
It’s a difficult balance, one of which it’s easy to lose sight. I still feel the agitation and missed opportunities to protect these landscapes, even if I never realistically had a chance to change the outcome. So yes, it’s personal, but I also can grasp the pain of the ecosystem based on years of observation. As humans who understand humans, we just have to look at one another to remark, “gee, you look sick.” That’s how scientists can look at a wetland or forest, and just know it’s sick.
I can also reflect on my work last winter in Australia’s tropics, where marine biologists shed tears and lost sleep over their beloved Great Barrier Reef. And they know it’s not even theirs. It’s ours, and we all are seeing something precious and irreplaceable slip away due to human factors, as we head into 2020.
Damn, that’s got to be hard to watch.