Archive for February, 2022

It is Black History Month, and I have been thinking a bit about what I can do as a White scientist, birder, and naturalist, to celebrate the contributions of Black members of these communities. I want to do a small part to lift up the voices of Black environmentalists, climate activists, birders, and naturalists. So, instead of writing a bunch of my own words (and in so doing lifting my own voice instead of the voices of others), I did some poking around online to find Black environmental leaders to draw attention to. Below are links to some lists of Black leaders in the fields of the environmental movement, climate activism, birding, environmental justice, science communication and education, and many other related topics.

These lists are by no means comprehensive, but they include a lot of amazing people doing amazing work. My hope is that you take a few minutes to peruse these lists, and find some individuals who interest you. Learn more about them and the work they are doing. Find organizations they lead or work for and make a donation. Follow them on social media and so support the messages they are working to spread.

So with that, enough from me. Black lives matter. Enjoy!

SF Environment – list of Black environmentalists

GreenPeace – list of 8 Black environmental activists

Solstice – list of 20 Black climate activists

The Wilderness Society – list of 7 Black birders

“This earth is more than worth fighting for.” — Amanda Gorman

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Something that annoys me is when a group will not recognize when there own members mess up and turn a blind eye instead of holding them accountable. It makes me think that the members of a group are more concerned with defending the group rather than defending what is right (however you might define that).

So, to make sure I do not fall into that trap, I have some thoughts on the resignation of Eric Lander who was appointed by President Biden as the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. But first, some background.

Lander was sworn in to this post on June 2nd, 2021. The mission of the Office of Science and Technology Policy is to “maximize the benefits of science and technology to advance health, prosperity, security, environmental quality, and justice for all Americans.” However, significant complains started to accumulate about Lander’s behavior and conduct toward the staff of the Office of Science and Technology Policy who worked under him. These complaints led to an internal White House investigation.

The two month long internal investigation into Lander’s behavior ended in January 2022 and “found credible evidence of instances of multiple women having complained to other staff about negative interactions with Dr. Lander, where he spoke to them in a demeaning or abrasive way in front of other staff.” It further found that Lander created a toxic work environment for many subordinates regardless of gender.

This investigation was reported on by Politico. After the Politico piece came out, Lander issued an apology via email to the staff of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. A few days after that apology, and after further pushback from current and former staff and the press, Lander submitted his resignation on February 7, 2022.

My thoughts are that it was inappropriate for Lander to resign. He should have been fired.

I think it is telling that Lander only issued his apology email after the Politic article was published. To me this suggests that it was simply done in an attempt to limit damage, and not as a genuine indication of remorse. I think there is no place for the type of toxic workplace that he seems to have engendered, and individuals who behave in such a way should be held accountable and removed from their positions, particularly when they occupy positions of power. And I think this internal investigation was only the tip of the iceberg. Lander had caused some disturbances when he dismissed the accomplishments of two fellow geneticists who contributed significant work to advanced gene editing research that Lander was involved with; surprise surprise, those two geneticists were women. And Lander has been a long standing admirer of James Watson who co-discovered the structure of DNA, and who also was well known for holding many sexist and racist views.

Has Eric Lander done some very important science? Absolutely. Did he help to advance science policy and the public understanding of science? Definitely. Does this mean he is above reproach? No way.

All in all, I don’t think Lander should have been appointed to the position in the first place. He had enough of a track record of morally dubious views that his should have been eliminated during the vetting process. And I definitely think that having him no longer in that position of power is a step in the right direction.

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I just discovered a gem (well, actually my wife did).

Cover of the audiobook version of “The Sense of Wonder” by Rachel Carson. Image courtesy of Goodreads.com.

My family and I have an Audible account that we all use extensively. One of the fun things that Audible does is to offer a rotating spattering of books for free to account holders. The books offered this way are always a bit of a random assortment, and since they change frequently checking that list is always a bit of a gamble. My wife checked that list about a month ago and spotted a book she thought I would be interested in. The book was called “The Sense of Wonder” by Rachel Carson, and wow was my wife right about it!

Rachel Carson, in case you have somehow never heard of her, was a marine biologist, conservation ecologist, science communicator, and author (to name just a few). She is most famous for her book “Silent Spring” in which she discusses the negative impacts that insecticides have on the natural world and on human health. This book is widely viewed as having a dramatic impact on the efforts to ban many harmful pesticides and launching the environmental movement in the USA.

In “The Sense of Wonder” Carson talks about sharing a love of nature and the world with kids. How magnificent it can be to spend time with a child asking questions regardless of if you or anyone else knows the answers. How wonderous it can be to stand together on the edge of the ocean and have the waves “through great handfuls of froth” at you. How awe inspiring it can be to walk in the company of child through a deep forest after a storm and see every pine needle and ever spray of lichen trimmed with water droplets.

Carson also discusses how important it is to share these experiences and emotional responses to nature with children, and not teach them about nature. It is the sharing that is important. It is the sharing of one’s own passion that will spread that passion to others. The knowledge will come, almost on its own, if the love and passion are there, but the reverse is so common.

I am so delighted that this book exists. I want to share it with my daughter. I want to take it out into the woods and read it so that I can share Carson’s words and thoughts, myself. This book exemplifies the value of the written word in that the ideas that someone has can be shared with others long after that person is gone (Carson died in 1964 at the age of 57).

This is certainly a book that I heartily recommend and that I will be re-reading often. I will probably even go out and find a hardcopy version that I can physically carry with me to the seashore or forest or riverbank or desert.

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Disclaimer: I have no sponsorship type relation to Audible, Rachel Carson, or the publishing company that produces this book.

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